Critic and playwright Peter Wilson captures exceedingly well the conundrum facing critics : how to be fair to all their constituents – their readers, the performers and crew, and the author. (The arts critic : dutiful, yes, but to whom? March 30)
From 1972 to 1988 I was a freelance theatre critic for a half-dozen community newspapers in the Lower Mainland. I happen to prefer the stuff of a David Mamet script, say Glengarry Glen Ross, to the fluff of yet another song’n’dance review, say Angry Housewives. My job as a critic, however, was not to assail the dross and inflict my prejudices on readers as some sort of enlightened “theatrical truth”.
In theatre, “truth” is what sells. What “works” for people, in a word. That’s what P.T. Barnum and Andrew Lloyd Webber share so intimately given what precious little substance there is to their stuff. “Truth”, in the words of Yogi Berra, comes out thus : “If the folks don’t wanna go to the park, you can’t stop em...”.
Experience also proved to me that proper criticism can be trenchant without being disdainful. Alas, I find too many critics are too busy preening in front of self-gilded mirrors to see their costumes and makeup. That’s why they deserve to be dismissed as arrogant charlatans.
The wilful damage they inflict on the hopes and aspirations of legitimate theatre, meanwhile, is quite rightfully a cause for concern. Gratuitous attacks on theatre that the critic may not like, but audiences seem to love, are as unnecessary and unfair as they are inaccurate.
For my money, an honest, thoughtful and well-intentioned critique, not merely an egotistical diatribe, is what I demand from arts critics. If they would only deliver fair comment – literally and figuratively – we’d have no argument, even if we had no agreement.
There is, after all, no accounting for taste.
W. Baird Blackstone
1936 East 19th Avenue