The NYT’s Charles Isherwood writes about what he calls the “odd-man-out” syndrome:
This can roughly be described as the experience of attending an event
at which much of the audience appears to be having a rollicking good
time, while you sit in stony silence, either bored to stupefaction or
itchy with irritation, miserably replaying the confluence of life
circumstances that have brought you here. (“Curse that Isherwood!”)
I’d like to offer a related disorder, one that particularly affects critics. Go to a lot of dance or music or theatre and you might find yourself suffering from mushy-middle-itis. Really good performances are easy to write about. Ditto for horrible art. The easiest art to write about is art to which you have a strong reaction – good or bad. Death is having to manufacture a reaction to something that left you with no reaction at all.
I’m talking about the vast mushy middling center that clogs our stages and galleries. Dance that is merely adequate. Theatre that is competent but neither very good or really bad. Art that is thoughtlessly routine or formulaic. Performances that are indifferently staged. Music that mimics what’s already been done over and over again. It is this kind of art that sludges the ears, glazes over the eyes and dulls our audiences.
1. Why are we so afraid to call out the mushy middle when
we see/hear it?
2. Why must we set up expectations that performances are
going to be “performance of a lifetime” when we know they
probably won’t be?
Not every performance can be transcendent. But doesn’t there have to be room for the nobility of the routinely good as distinct from the merely indifferently routine?