Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Cut Slack
Here's another reason why a critic might be inclined to go easy on a theater: guilt. In the case of today's review, there's a company in the Philadelphia suburbs I feel like I've been hammering just about every time I visit. Sometimes it's their choice of play, others it's the level of performance or direction, but lately it seems that every time I go, this lovely little house situated inside an old grist mill ends up with a spanking that pains us both.
I don't believe in critical boosterism, nor do I think it's my job to keep theaters in business, but there comes a point when a critic has to ask herself if perhaps the problem is a difference in taste, rather than simply a dearth of quality. So no, this wasn't the best Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen, and though it was an uneven production, it was good enough to deliver at least part of the experience I wanted when I left the house that evening. This time, rather than chastising the company for my perception of its comfort with mediocrity, I sat back and accepted it for what it was: a suburban theater with pretty conventional tastes. And that night I had a pretty good time.
This doesn't mean I'll always cut them slack; after all, I'm worried about my credibility, not theirs. But still, it's a lesson in context, which is important for everyone to remember, whether reading or writing a review. When McCarter stumbles--as I believe they did in their latest production--it's one thing. But judging a small local house by the same standard is another. They don't get a pass, of course, because that would be irresponsible on my part, but they do get credit for knowing what their audience wants when they leave the house, even if it might not be exactly what I'm looking for.
P.S., the first line contains a typo. It should read, "our collective anxiety," not "collection anxiety." And no one deserves slack for letting that slide.