Everyone's a Critic, Episode 6

jazz hands.JPGWe're at the end game. Here are the final entries, unedited by me, awaiting your vote. You'll notice the absence of one member, Jennifer Ford. Ms. Ford performed in La Bete during our group critiques, and as a result, withdrew from competition. However, she was an enthusiastic participant at the meetings the attended, and dammit, we missed her while she was gone. Everyone else arrives, on time, to render their final judgement.

The winning entry and writer will attend the American College Theater Festival at the Kennedy Center this spring, and the Kennedy Center winner there will attend this summer's O'Neill Center Critics Institute. May the best writer win the comp, and may the rest walk away with the knowledge that their writing has grown immeasurably since Tuesday evening.

Directing Choices Can't Stop La Bête

By Devin Dippold

Would you enjoy a witty, fast-paced, hilarious play that ended by calling you an idiot? If so, Grove City College 's production of La Bête is the show for you. In a play that either can praise or belittle comedic theatre works, the production chooses to shame the audience for laughing rather than embrace the power of its own effort.

The script by David Hirson centers on the 1654 French acting troupe directed by Elomire (Pierce Babirak), whose plays have become stagnant. Prince Conti (Jesse Aukeman), patron of the group, hires Valere (Douglas Baker), a street performer and fool, in the hopes that he can add life to Elomire's work. Hirson loosely bases Valere on French playwright Molière, who, like Valere, rose from street performer to the chief comic playwright of 17th Century France.

Baker pulls out the stops as Valere, and the script demands that he do so. During Act One, Valere delivers a nearly 30-minute monologue to showcase his supposed wit. Baker never lets the monologue stall. He creates a clown who prances around the stage, claiming "My tutor fell in love with me, of course" only to snap back with "Don't look at me as if I led him on." It's like watching the musician Tiny Tim frolic freely only to see him morph into Sam Kinison and berate everything around him. He is ridiculous but never boring.

The set design (uncredited in the program) offers an open space where Baker can play. The furniture is limited to chairs in each corner and a single round table, and Baker bounds on every piece. A single set of gold French doors in a cream colored upstage wall provides the main entrance and exit for all actors. Unfortunately, this means that almost every actor must use these doors and, in turn, creates a few tedious scene changes. Dr. Kristin Barbour's costume design is a muddled mix of contemporary and period pieces. Prince Costi looks like a perfect replica of Louis XIV, but Elomire's outfit is a modern black suit. Valere's ludicrous wig (gigantic even by period standards) sparks laughter, but rebellious teenage maid Dorine's wig is a bright green that clashes with every other costume. The other women are in fluorescent satin dresses that offer a 1960s "Mod" vibe seen nowhere else. The costumes feel like they are all from different shows.

Perhaps these contemporary costumes are supposed to link to the themes of the production. Near the end of the play, Babirak, who is a knockout as Elomire, has his defining moment. As everyone praises Valere's "sophomoric" work, Brabirak attacks the street performer, calling for a return to "deeper" art and bemoaning that this praise for such shallow work means "Mediocrity is all we know." In director Betsy Craig's program notes, she claims that mediocrity may not just be all we know but also be "all we want." She makes it clear in her notes that we should not seek a fun play just "because it pays well."

Craig opens the play by featuring every character but Valere in a series of tableaus set to music. The message is clear: these people are shallow, posturing fools, and they should not be followed. When the acting troupe sides with Valere, whose play creates the joy that Elomire's work lacks, they are made to feel like Judases instead of people with a legitimate point. Bejart (Patrick McElroy) offers a necessary compromise, but he and the rest of the troupe surround Elomire like sharks as he makes his point. Bejart becomes a sellout to his friend instead of a voice of reason. Craig's direction lauds over Elomire as a dramatic god, never stopping to see if, as the Prince suggests, his work may be stale. Likewise, she dismisses Valere as stupid and irrelevant without considering the merit of his humor.

The biggest issue with her take on the script? Elomire's speech condemns irreverent humor after a play full of irreverent, and often brilliant, humor. If Elomire is right, why did Grove City College choose to do this play? Is this production telling its audience that Molière offers nothing to the "serious" theatergoer? It tries to, but it doesn't succeed. Ultimately, David Hirson's script finds a happy balance between fun frivolity and serious critique. Not even Craig's directed dismissal of comedy can kill the fun of this show. If you can tolerate being scolded for laughing, this production is a lively romp that can leave you in stitches.

Evocative Spring

Jessica Hinds-Bond

Choreographed scenes of suicide, rape, masturbation, and abortion sound like bits from a new and purposefully-offensive fringe show, rather than moments from a play written over 100 years ago. Nevertheless, such scenes color Rowan University's production of Frank Wedekind's ever-controversial play Spring Awakening, translated and adapted by Douglas Langworthy. Composed of linked but non-linear scenes, and dealing with issues of love, friendship, sex, and the generational gap, Spring Awakening tells the story of 14-year old Melchior (Kevin Melendez), his best friend Moritz (Stephan Grande), and Melchior's first love Wendla (Arcadea Jenkins).

Spring Awakening explores the gulf between childhood and adulthood that must be traversed in the teenage years. Wendla and Melchior are treated as young children by the adults in their lives, as when Melchior's mother serves tea for him from a child's porcelain tea set and when Wendla's mother tries to tell her daughter how babies are made, only managing to moan open-mouthed that, "one must LOOOOOVE" a man. Monstrous masks illustrate the teenagers' impressions of the play's adults: while the school teachers' masks are enormous laugh-inducing creations of wrinkled flesh and dated hairstyles, the teenagers' mothers seem especially creepy in their featureless half-masks. Their recognizably human traits make them so much more discomforting than the alien-like teachers.

Rather than stagnant backdrops, Bart Healy's scenic design offers opposing atmospheric worlds that reinforce the play's themes. The first act takes place in a teenager-driven world of youthful promise, on a stage that is transformed into a multi-colored sea of flowers. Only two adults appear in this act; mothers of Wendla and Melchior, they seem strangely out-of-place in their grotesque partial masks. The second act, commencing just after Moritz commits suicide, presents the dead world of the grown-ups: the stage becomes a giant dirt-walled grave, the adults' masks become more outrageous, and it is the teenagers who are outnumbered. The grave arises from the stage after Moritz's suicide as if awakening to claim his body, formed from the undersides of the first act's flowered floor coverings. Identical blue children's tables and chairs are skillfully arranged by the actors to form everything from grave sites to household furniture, cutting down on scene change length and helping to unify the production.

The two acts of Spring Awakening feel like two completely different plays, the result of Lane Savadove's directing and Wedekind's bizarre script. The first act is full of life and energy even in the moments when someone is contemplating death, as near the end of the act when Grande constructs a pyramid out of six tables while holding the gun that he will use to kill himself. His friend Ilse (Michele Mizeski) flutters onto the stage, and the two climb either side of the pyramid to talk at its apex, reminding one of Emily and George atop the ladders in Our Town. The few encroachments of masked figures into the world are deliciously chilling, as when Melchior's mother Frau Gabor (Kelsey Malone) stands in a single spotlight at the stage's center, alluringly dressing herself in a full-black ensemble while reciting the letter that Mortiz is reading at the front corner of the stage.

In contrast, the abundance of ever-more-outrageous masks in the second act makes the action too awkwardly laughable rather than starkly beautiful as before. As the act opens, the six teachers appear in a line at the front of the stage, enacting a nightmarish scene full of faculty meeting trivialities, including a vote on whether a window in the room should be opened or left shut. The scene starts off funny and engaging but drags on for too long, a trait common to much of the second act.

The full ensemble is excellent in terms of movement throughout the production, with actors in many scenes working in perfect unison. Grande is the production's standout, portraying with sincerity a likeable boy frightened of failing in school and approaching sexual maturity.

Unfortunately, inconsistent vocal projection and sound-muffling masks sometimes render the production incomprehensible, as at the top of the second act when the six school teachers wear masks that vary from partial to full obstruction of the actors' faces. Another recurring and frustrating problem relates to the production's inventive blocking: actors often sit or lay in the flowers in the first act, rendering them invisible to audience members seated in the lower sections.

In spite of its faults, the solid ensemble work and the creative team's evocative staging make Spring Awakening a production not to be missed.


Tammy Bateman

A soldier returning from Iraq, a woman abandoned in a nursing home, and a photographer required to capture devastating images have one thing in common. They were all affected by the events of Hurricane Katrina. As the monologue On TV so clearly states, the tragedy was there for us to observe. Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues performed by The College of Brockport is a stunning string of stories shared by common people.

As the play opens, the character named Dead (Gloria Curet) immediately engages the audience. Her lazy posture, sloppy appearance, and a chewing accent give her the impression of your friendly, neighborhood porch talker. Curet's commanding performance sets the pace for the show and the actors that precede her.

Emerging from the audience, Stephanie Sauer stands out in her crisp dress clothes against the grungy state of those onstage. The comedy she weaves through this monologue of hopelessness is displayed in her strong stance and confident manner.

These are not the only standout performers. At the end of a beautifully written and fun monologue about the looting and coldness of human nature, Lindsay Fisher, playing the Photographer, hits the nerve of the entire play. In a series of monologues centered on pain and destruction, the photographer notices that among it all there are still compassionate people in the world. She vividly speaks of this moment she sees people who have lost everything, standing on a street covered in debris. The memory of that moment is not only playing in her head, but Fisher speaks the lines in a way that illustrates this. In a single line, she strikingly gives a chill when she speaks of a man standing among the defeated people of New Orleans. Not mourning his own losses but feeling for those who have lost much more, he plays his violin for the people who have nothing. As a character who up to this point is cynical of the country's behavior, she changes her once fidgety body language, and is now eerily still to deliver this saving grace among the rubble. While some actors are aided by Tom Flannery's writing to save their performances, Fisher takes the lines and makes them her own.

Paired with the equally stunning yet simple set of towering ladders of varying sizes, Colorblind is fascinating in all respects. Between each monologue the ensemble's graceful motions, directed by Maria Scipione connects the speakers' words to a visual display of struggle. Draped across ladders, young girls curled on the floor seeking shelter, and people holding one another, the ensemble embodies the experiences of those affected.

Colorblind is an eloquently written play that studies our commonalities in the face of struggle. An innocent child, an older man determined to remain in his home, and a observing from his roof all share one common factor. Compassion and selflessness for those just like themselves. If you're looking for a piece of theatre that is relatable in its discussion of this horrible event, while still flirting with a lighthearted tone, Colorblind will satisfy everyone's interest.

Love Not Hard to Find for this Labour
P.S. Northrop

From the moment the burgundy, 19th century floral print program for Albright College's production of Love's Labour's Lost is placed in your hands, you just know you're in for a ridiculous and stylized experience. Indeed, the players and designers make good on the program's promise--delivering an ostentatious performance that makes fun not only of itself, but also the world that it comes from. Even if you hate the showier side of Shakespeare, this interpretation brings a delightful touch of youth that makes Love's Labour's Lost a worthwhile endeavor.


I mean, we all associate Shakespeare with pastel tights under padded doublets for men and colorful dresses so large they threaten to take up an entire stage for women. This approach to attire is source of ridicule that all modern productions of the bard's tales have to face. Albright College seems to be acutely aware of this as they take their characters to the stage of the Merriam Theater. The costumes that Tiffany Hernandez and her stichers create for some of the roles capture their essence perfectly.


Most notable of these character-costume parings lies with David Darrow's portrayal of Don Adriano de Armando. First off, his attire, fabricated from a deep purple velvet with golden veins woven in throughout, makes him the most flamboyantly dressed character. Darrow's deep voice, powerful projection and pathetic attempts at high status all pair off with the costume stitch for statement.


Of course, Darrow's performance would be a little much if he wasn't toned down and mocked by his fellow actors. The witty interchanges between Biron (Billy Balmer) and Rosaline (Audrey Biser) along with the emotional proclamations of Ferdinand (Andrew Dell) all provide substance to pair with the play's overt style.


Dell is eloquent and unshakably high-status, standing perfectly upright and practically gliding across the stage as he delivers his verse--with his only setback being his inability to create volume in the Merriam Theater's space. Biser has the same volume troubles, although she makes up with this with her quick wit and expressive physicality. With a quick flip of her hair and a swish of her enormous pink dress, she deftly forces Balmer's character fall head over heels and, in using her body, earns that love more than any of the other actresses.
Along those lines, another trouble with any Shakespearian story is the notion of "love at first sight" where one simple glance is enough to get two people inexorably infatuated with one another. In Love's Labour's Lost, this tired undertaking is repeated four times over with four different pairs of people (and that's only in the main focus characters, the four noble noblemen of Navarre and the ladies of France). Director Julia Matthews deals with this problem with uproarious blocking. All eight of the noble men and women are lined up when they first meet. Pair by pair, they walk up to each other, abruptly fall in love, and then quickly jump out of line so that the next couple may tumble for each other in rapid succession. This leads to one of the performance's bigger laughs, and firmly establishes that the show isn't afraid to lampoon its origins.


But it would be a disappointment if the fun stopped with the actors and the blocking wouldn't it? Wayne E. Vettleson and his technical crew also get their chance to have a good time throughout the piece--specifically right before intermission. The four main men of the show have just been disheartened in their quest to attain the hearts of their female counterparts. However, Balmer is quick to rise up on a soapbox and rally the troops. His command over the text seems effortless and his voice reverberates throughout the whole of the Merriam as he starts his motivational oration. It gets to the point where his accent and manner of speech resemble every single cliché' inspirational monologue we've seen in the movies. Just when this dynamic is about to become groan-worthy, a dramatic yellow light washes over Balmer while an overly powerful arrangement of violins and brass comes belting out of the speakers. Cue five minutes of laughter.


All of this silliness goes down amongst a minimal yet vivid set. In the foreground there are white trees cut out of paper and adorned with Arabic looking calligraphy ascending to the ceiling on the right and rigid Corinthian columns topped with white busts of fierce philosophers to the left. Behind this there hangs a big 'ol white sheet that lights change the color of depending on the mood of the scene.


The sum of all these elements is something to behold. This production uses exuberant style and humor to create a uniquely absurd event that one just doesn't want to get out of. You're likely to hold on to that glitzy program for some time afterward, just so you can remember this gem of a production. 

Love' not 'Lost' in New Production of Shakespeare
By Shawn Arnold

Who wants to watch a boring old British play? Nothing is more of a snooze fest to a contemporary audience than a stuffy portrayal of the classics. George Bernard Shaw, whose main body of plays was only released less than 100 years ago, had the assistance of Lerner and Loewe to keep one of his plays fresh in the 50's. If Shaw is an issue, the Bard trumps them all. Too many productions of Shakespeare's works are often stilted and hackneyed. Albright College, however, does not follow down this boring path. The Domino Players Theatre Company of the college presents an uproariously flirtatious production of Bill's "Love's Labour's Lost."

A play about love, learning, flirtation, and the battle of the sexes, Shakespeare's naughty, sexual humor is peppered throughout the piece. Ferdinand, young King of Navarre (Andrew Dell), and three guys in his court swear off chicks to get some learning done. These studies are soon interrupted when the hotties from the French court show up. When love letters the dudes sent in the mail get mixed up and go to the wrong chics, the ladies decided to mess with the guys by forcing the gents to confuse which girl is which.

Trumpets swell. The foolish Biron delivers a bravado filled speech like John Wayne, essentially telling his buddies, "Lets Go Get'um Pilgrims." This is all the motivation the King and his men need to go after the hot mammas. Billy Balmer's Biron, foolish friend of the King, translates to a modern audience. Balmer maintains the integrity of the verse, yet takes liberties with the delivery and rate to make this jokester flesh out. Billy delivers his lines at the speed of thought, never allowing himself to simply recite the verse which would make it
artificial, poetry and not a play.

Some characters do allow the words to entrap and alter their performances. The French ladies all fall into this net, but Lauren Murray's Princess of France completely gets lost this speech. She does a beautiful job at reading the poetry, but she has some issue making it
become real and alive. The "Frenchies" all do, however, sport their sex appeal well in snaring the King and his gents. Although occasionally stiff in her dialog with the ladies, Audrey Biser's Rosaline is especially vivaciously flirty in her dealings with Ferdinand and Biron.

Comic relief from the already funny love affairs is readily available via the rustic characters. Their wacky, slap-stick antics provide much needed physical humor. The play that these characters perform for the two courts is absolutely hilarious. Although all of the rustics are
fun, two are above the rest. First is Andre Forbes-Ezeugwu's Costard. Andre gives a really effective modern edge to the peasant Costard. By allowing modern inflection into his speech, this Costard is a blast to watch.

And now the man, the myth, the artist currently known as Don Adriano de Armado. David Darrow's portrayal of Armado oozes bombastic troubadour in such a larger than life character. Darrow is absolutely side-splittingly funny as this Spaniard with his ridiculous lilt and his over the top physicality.

A wonderful playground for the actors in pastel shades and white, the set is a world divided. On one side the city, with its solid white pillars and chain dividers, is where the men are in control. It is an orderly place. The other side is the forest. Being the exact opposite of the city, it is delicate and fluid. The trees are parchment with beautiful script scrawled across. This is the domain of the women where their seduction is in control. Designer Lisi Stoessel did a wonderful job of distinguishing these two worlds on stage, both physically and symbolically.

Although the costume pieces are right out of Elizabethan England, this is not detracting at all from the immediacy of the piece. In fact, the costume design by Paula Trimpey is vivid, elaborate, and helps to draw you into and believe in these characters. Armado's ridiculous, velvety costume displays the equally absurd character.

Albright College's production of "Love's Labour's Lost" makes Shakespeare fresh and sexy for a modern audience. The production really is a must see. If you are a student who just started up the new semester and already feel, "What is the end of study, let me know?" as Biron laments in the first act, take some time off to see this exhilarating, spicy play. Bring a "special" guest. With only a little "Labour" you may get some "Love" with little money "Lost."

La Bete, You Bet!

Savannah Ganster

"Precocious? Try PHENOMENAL!" Okay, maybe I stole that line from David Hirson's La Bȇte, but it's the best way to describe this show, performed by Grove City College at the Art's Bank Theatre. Don't believe me? Ask the audience. They offered up the first standing ovation of this year's American College Theatre Festival for an invited production.

Imagine Alice in Wonderland set at the Palace of Versailles in extreme Technicolor... this is the opening scene of La Bete. The highly stylized set with a shining chandelier, a black and white checkered floor, and walls of creams and gold, contrasts with the stark background of a skeletal stage. The majority of its skirts, scrims and curtains are removed with every single gelled light revealed to the audience's eyes. Since La Bete is a show about the theatre, the manner in which the set appears upon the stage is a clever reinforcement of that theme. It's a reminder that this is a theatre within a theatre within a theatre.

Douglas Baker's Valere, the star of the show, is incredible. Baker vibrantly delivers a manic, delusional, self-absorbed, riotous twenty-two minute monologue. The monologue, which occupies thirty pages of script, is delivered furiously and flawlessly as Baker runs around the stage with the most intense energy seen so far during this festival's productions. As this monologue unfolds, it is clear that the character of Valere is a pretentious idiot who is given to long bouts of logorrhea and word invention. He is like a redneck in a country club parading around in a black wig reminiscent of culture icon Russell Brand's signature rat-nest hair, a drab fur-lined coat, a decaying lace cravat, a tunic that could double as a stained burlap sack, tweed knickers, cheddar orange tights and scuffed white golf shoes. For his idiocy and commonality, Valere is rejected by the elitist royal-court tenured acting troupe's leader, Elomire (Pierce Babirak), as he seeks acceptance into the troupe. Baker shines throughout the entire piece as he wins the other characters over with Valere's stupidity.

Jesse Aukeman's excessively frivolous, flamboyant, and effeminate Prince Conti is a hit! Aukeman gives his character the perfect amount of shallowness to come across as a bored and misinformed member of royalty. Also, he offers expressions with his powdered and rouged face which clearly communicate Prince Conti's emotions throughout the play. Aukeman's strengths as an actor allow him to show Prince Conti's intended weaknesses as a character in a deft manner.

However, despite the fabulosity (if Valere can invent words, so can I) of both Baker and Aukeman, actor Jennifer Ford stole the spotlight on several occasions. Ford plays the role of Dorine, a seventeen year old maid with toxic green hair who speaks only in rhyming monosyllabic words like, "blue," "two," "new," and "shoe." As she totters across the stage on her toes playing charades with the other characters, while looking coquettishly from Elomire to Valere as they argue, Dorine endears. Ford is quite certainly a very strong actor, for only a strong actor could steal the spotlight from Baker and Aukeman without saying more than ten different words through the course of this show.

In addition to the cast's strength, the costume director Dr. Kristen Barbour compiled the brightest and most elegant costumes (excluding Valere's costume) seen yet at the ACTF this year. Despite Valere's purposely gaudy costume, all of the costumes manage to complement each other. With vibrant satin dresses and matching makeup, Barbour attains costume perfection.

Not to be left out, La Bete director, Professor Betsy Craig, navigates Hirson's amazing script, written in rhyming couplets, to create this phenomenal word ballet. It asks the poignant questions, "What is art? Is it something superficial, or is it deep? If one expects mediocrity rather than excellence, can one ever be disappointed in the outcome of the truly mediocre or substandard? Is society declining so much that we have lost true art and instead embraced drivel?" However, this production manages a great feat and asks these questions through unparalleled hilarity and outrageousness. Rather than staring bleakly at a show dealing with such heavy themes, the audience laughs until their sides hurt and then they laugh some more.

La Bete, at once uproariously entertaining and saucy, is proof that PHENOMENAL art still exists.

A Dying Clown

Amy E. Martin

What do we want in theater and when is it good? From Plato to now, theater presents these enduring questions. The current Grove City College 's comedic production of LaBête attempts to answer what is good art and the performance scoff at Moliere glides above mediocre imitation. However, without the program note "what is good art" the question of theater as entertainment or moral instruction is nonexistent. Instead, the duality of witty humor and its rhythm creates a fast paced production where exorbitant luxury and absurdity are contradicted by the arch-lacking performance.

A Madonna inspired "Vogue strike a pose" movement introduces the cast, and is magnified by a 17th century style overture with sounds of playfully plucked strings. Beginning with a spotlight on the cast, vibrant snapshots emerge in a speedy, quirky gambol. As a grandiose chandelier glimmers above a black and white checkered floor the inherent contradictions of the set and Betsy Craig's direction become apparent; this is the world of LaBête!

Patron of the arts Prince Conti(Jesse Aukeman) demands a new track from his renowned acting troupe leader Elomire (Pierce Babirak), who intern is contradicted by a street performer Valere(Douglas Baker) and the wordy romp of the play speeds off. Elomire stands tall with slick hair and overwhelming eyebrows, and his gapping goldfish mouth delivers each line in crippling arrogance. In addition, he is too detached from the rest of the set, because of his narrow and morose black costume, that his presence appears dark and sinister in comparison to the rest of the cast. Elomire remains on stage for the nearly the entire play his voice inflection and body language become too obvious after the first thirty minutes, and he neglects to draw positive attention for the remainder of the production.

On the other side of the spectrum, Valere (Douglas Baker) is so full of foppish energy that the egotistical nature of the character engulfs the production in "verbobo;" an imaginary word referring to the spirit of words. Orange tights, Halloween costume textured fabric, and a massive-scrambled wig uses the comedy of manners as a focal point for Baker's narcissism. Playwright David Hirson has written Valere's character with an overbearing presence, which accumulates in a nearly thirty minute monologue on theater aesthetic, morality, and it both charms and confuses the viewer. Tragically, Baker was unable to maintain the exuberant charisma that he reached in his opening monologue for the entire production. He delivered no progression of intensity and his performance became a comedy drawing strong correlations of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend."

In addition the flat world of the set neglects awe inspiring sublimity, because it refuses to uphold the tempo of the production: perhaps a reason that no set designer is listed? It is too obvious in its inspiration and lacks depth. On the side of being overly symbolic the grandiose nature of the production is seen in the chandelier while the morality and rationality of theater hold strong within the confining lines of the black and white floor.

Dr. Kristin Barbour's costumes also lack any cohesive quality: from Elomire's and Valere's mentioned earlier to a comparison of the rest of the ensemble a confusing mesh of humor, texture, and extreme color pallet emerges. They are bright, spunky, fun, and illogical, but rationality for the decisions is not fulfilled by the performances. The costumes define the character instead of the more powerful opposite. This is particularly seen in the character of Dorine, who appears to be Alice in Wonderland on Absinthe. She articulates one syllable rhymes like "blue, true, new, and shoe" and wears a maids outfit with florescent lime green tights and hair, but seems unnecessary and insignificant to the plays progression.

LaBête reaches its peak in Valere's performance of the "Dying Clown" it becomes clear that the theatricality of the production has overpowered its significance. The sassy, Moliere mockery cheapens the intention of developing a dialectical conversation about art, because after an hour and a half of mindless laughter and ramblings the performance is unable to obtain depth.

Taking a refreshing yet cliché turn from absurdity to morality Elomire attempts to explain that good art is not merely what entertains, but what transforms. However, the greatest problem in the production arises here; because by this point Elomire's sinister nature has been unapparent within the rocket paced narcissism of Valere. Overall, the production neglects to successfully define "What good art really is," but it does enthusiastically amuse and brighten a long day.

January 17, 2009 1:09 PM | | Comments (7)

7 Comments

As an "insider" (I am Vice Chair for KCACTF Region II), I just wanted to say how fantastic it is to see all the reviews posted here on Wendy's blog. The students involved were blessed by Ralph Leary's leadership, and surely benefited from Wendy's expertise. I don't always get a chance to read all the reviews that the students write before the festival ends, and Wendy's blog allowed me the luxury of waiting until I got home this evening from the festival to take a look at their work. All of them are winners - because even if only one gets to go to the O'Neill, they all got to live, breathe and eat theatre for 5 days, and to learn from an energetic, theatre loving critic.
Thanks Wendy, for your service to both KCACTF and the city of Philadelphia. Thanks Ralph, for all your work with KCACTF, and thank you Jessica, P.S., Amy, Devin, Savannah, Shawn and Tammy for hitting the computer while many of your peers were down in the hotel ballroom with the DJ.
Hope we can all do this again next year!
Elizabeth van den Berg
Vice Chair and Irene Ryan Coordinator
KCACTF Region II

Wendy, I’m torn between Dippold and Martin. I’ve posted my comments below

Dippold:
Comments: Great opening, jumps around alot (not well unified), relies on directors notes—something I’m occasionally ok with, overly wordy (saying things in two sentences that you could have said in one), SOLID ANALYSIS of the production and the intent, conveys that the reviewer clearly understood the stage event but didn’t necessarily convey to the reader what that event was. Who is “her” in paragraph seven? I’d rather hear the word “Craig” repeated than lose the train of thought.
Also, I like that you presented a strong idea, clearly stated from the start.
Biggest complaint: reliance on trite, overused terms like “pulls out the stops.”

Hinds-Bond:
Comments: fantastic conveyance of what happened onstage. Not enough judgment (note the difference between analysis—which you did—and judgment).
Nicely done overall. However, your ending “not to be missed” recommendation is not evident in what you say in the 500 words above it. It’s a tacked on endorsement.

Bateman:
Too much use of “is” phrases rather than active verbs make for a dull review of what sounded like an interesting performance. The audience needs to hear judgment on top of analysis. Learn how to use a “colon” in your writing (ex: ...all share one common factor: compassion and selflessness...). Why start a new sentence that’s an incomplete one? Review jumps around a lot; either master the synopsis-director-cast-production format or become better at writing transitions to unify your paragraphs. After re-reading this, I again notice that there’s very little of what you think about what traversed on stage.

Northrop:
Comments: Who is this “you” you’re addressing? Or rather, why (from the start) make the reader the primary focus of an article that’s supposed to tell us what the writer thinks? And then you shift to a “we” in the next paragraph? Collaboration is what occurs on stage, individual judgment what appears in print. Also, assuming you’ve already told us (with an analysis filled with adjectives) what you’ve seen on stage, why end with the summary “the sum of all these elements...” when you could’ve used that line much earlier as a springboard to your description? Here, it lacks force.

Arnold:
Comments: I love the contrarian opening that immediately takes a stance (that even though it risks losing readers, offers a far better start than something dull and non-committal). However, the readers who stayed with you beyond your opening paragraph might find something equally offensive in your use of “dudes, chicks, hotties,” etc. Remember your audience, which in this case, consists mainly of very well educated individuals. (It’s one thing for the Inky’s Toby Zinman to casually refer to an overuse of jewelry in a production as “bling,” because she’s being snarky or hip, but she’s already earned enough street cred to keep her readership.) [BTW, Wendy, did you at any point talk to your class about developing ‘street cred’?]
Incomplete analysis when discussing the actors. If you’re going to write “Biron translates to a modern audience” without telling us how, what’s the point of even saying it?
OK, after reading “the man, the myth,” etc., I’ve decided to stop reading. The Daily News called, looking for a reviewer. Too bad the people who read a paper filled with articles written like yours don’t attend the theatre. (It’s possible that I’m underestimating your approach, and perhaps you’ve discovered some novel way to entice modern audiences into the theatre.)

Ganster:
Comments: Great opening, I especially like leading from a line in the play. However, you lose me almost immediately thereafter by shifting the burden of judgment to the audience. Theatre-goers who read reviews to find out what to see do so because they expect the judgment of an expert. (I’m not wholly against mentioning audience response, I’ve done it, but here, I think you would best serve your article by mentioning it much later, or in the conclusion.)
A discussion of the actors before the synopsis left me wondering what it was that each of them did so well. If you can weave the synopsis into your analysis and judgment, then do so, but if you cannot, then please clue the reader in on what you’re discussing first. After reading this, I notice that I don’t know anything at all about the play or the plot.

Martin:
Comments: I’m not sure what to think about an analysis that looks overly reliant on pop culture for allusions (Madonna, Biz Markie, Absinthe). I understand all the references while an audience might not, but that’s not the problem. If you’re going to write analysis or description via some kind of cultural shorthand, then why not simply use clichés instead? I think the question answers itself. (if clichés are bad, then…) I enjoyed reading your description of this play, and found it interesting that you disagreed with the other reviewers by singling out the 22 minute monologue as badly delivered. Your diverging opinion gave you credibility.

I love the intellectual nature of the piece though. You couple your analysis with strong, considered, and well-explained judgment (though a reference to Plato seems odd, not just because it contrasts with your pop-culture references, but because he wrote about poetry, and Aristotle wrote about theatre). Also, the reference to Plato in the opening paragraph makes it seems as if you’re about to be stuffy, and right from the start. Thankfully, you didn’t follow through.
I like that you ask questions, and that you take a very thorough approach to answering them in your article, always by referencing the production or the play.

Plus, you’ve clearly developed your own voice. But you abuse your intelligent writing with pop culture references. Lose what hurts you and you’ll make a good writer.

Savannah,

Sorry about that... I caught it, and then didn't fix it... I apparently needed a much broader disclaimer. Thank you for your willingness to take part in this whole process so transparently... I always want to hide my process under a rock.

I just wanted to thank everyone for following us this week. It's been an amazing experience. Regardless of who won the competition, I feel as though we are all winners for having participated. The knowledge and understanding that I'm walking away with is more valuable to me than anything else. Again, thank you so much for weighing in on our work. Your comments were greatly appreciated and very helpful.

Savannah

(P.S. Travis Bedard: I just wanted to let you know that it was not my piece which said, "new track," but rather Amy's. Thank you for your feedback though.)

Disclaiming that I am aware of the grueling nature of the week, not a writer per se, and blissfully unaware of the rules my impressions follow:

There is a general problem with deciding who exactly the audience is. Are you writing for general consumption or for a theatre literate audience? They are different voices, and they have different allowances for assumption in their knowledge bases.

Secondly, there is a general passivity in the field. Don’t apologize for how you feel or what you know. Or rather if you feel something about either, as a reader I don’t need to know.

Third. Are you a reviewer or a Critic? This has been a matter of discussion on the theatre blogs of late so it is fresh in my mind, but there is a marked difference between being a capsule reviewer for the local alt weekly and being Jill Dolan.

Devin Dippold
This is the piece for which the third most critically applies. La Bete is obviously a production that asked a question you wanted to talk about, and rather than choose to approach the eternal artistic question of Art vs. Commerce you allowed yourself to back off into a review with some brief commentary on the question. The writing is strong throughout, with good knowledge dropping on the Valere/Moliere connection. Watch out for passive parentheticals that can be made active, specifically at the top of paragraph 4 the parenthetical could be dropped into the sentence as simply “the uncredited set design”.

Jessica Hinds-Bond
Very strong piece. I found it odd not to mention that the hit Broadway musical adaptation of the show. The ending is weaker than the rest of the piece, if the weaknesses had been sifted into the rest of the piece you could have ended with more energy. This is ready to be run right now.

Tammy Bateman
The opening is more passive than you want it to be. You have a chance with our collective memories of Katrina fresh to make a broad assumption that we DID in fact have that collective knowledge that you mention later. Structurally I would have moved your description of the set into the paragraph where you talk about the show’s opening leaving you free to talk about the performers and performances without having to return to it midstream. Your summary paragraph is very good, but “lighthearted tone” comes out of nowhere… we’re never clued in previously that such a tone existed? Solid work.

P.S. Northrop
And now the danger of assumptions: I have seen many MANY more deconstructed Shakespeare productions than full dress Elizabethan productions, so my experience with Shakespeare is not of the showier side, that’s not what I associate it with. So I would step out the opening to make it about the “stereotype” of Shakespearean performance rather than the “norm”. A few things got lost in editing I think… in particular “in using her body, earns that love more than any of the other actresses” seems to be missing an explaining sentence, or the kind of production that I thought ACTF didn’t invite…
You mention that the technical crew get in on the hijinks, but I’m not sure what their part is unless it is the dramatic yellow light.
In an otherwise fairly formal piece “big 'ol white sheet” seems out of place… as does it’s seeming contrast with the finished set you’ve described previously.

Shawn Arnold
Assumptions game at work again. The problem isn’t stuffy portrayals of classics… it’s stuffy portrayals. Major Barbara doesn’t need ‘spicing’ and Lerner and Lowe exploited Pygmalion, not save it. Aim at guaranteed negatives, not possible ones. Assuming that your audience hates everything older than 50 is a dangerous game to play in a field with an average audience age in the mid-forties. The tone of this piece seems squarely aimed at alt-weekly style with “modern vernacular” and blogger looseness. Be careful that your audience understands that that’s your voice and not commentary on the show’s voice. An enjoyable read, but be careful with adjectiving your adjectives (“especially vivaciously flirty”).

Savannah Ganster
The conversational tone works, but keep it consistently. Some word choices threw me, “new track” (I thought this was an acting troupe?) “costume director” (they’re designers) “is a hit!” (doesn’t really MEAN anything other than you liked him and doesn’t say why). Really strong piece.

In the end I vote Jessica Hinds-Bond, with Devin Dippold a very close second.



I've loved following you all during this week - thanks again for letting us stalk you, and thanks Wendy for sharing the process with us. It's been very instructive to think about what works and why.

Some great stuff in these final reviews. It's interesting that most of you chose high-style plays (LLL, La Bete) that inspired bouncy writing. The best advice I've ever received, if it's of any help, is to read your work aloud - there's no better way of identifying repetitions and non sequiteurs, slow passages and strong springy rhythms.

My top three? Shawn sounds as if he had a blast writing his review: it's great fun, even if not always coherent... Jessica's is a really intelligent and thoughtful piece - I love the way she recognises the development in the production, and doesn't merely describe images but relates them to the show's argument.

But the most confident piece of writing is Devin's. Smart and entertaining, it also argues back at the production on its own terms. As a reader, I trust his judgement and enjoy following his mind. Devin is a writer with personality, and that's pretty impressive.

Congratulations everyone, and tons of luck for the future.

I'm going to cast my vote for Devin Dippold. I like the fact that he treats the review as an essay, taking the time to explore an idea he has about the work and the porrayal, instead of trying to lend equal weight to all the stops like acting, lighting, etc. I also like that he was gutsy enough to really take a stab at interpreting direction, which is always a tough thing to get a handle on. There were times I thought he might be stretching at his thesis (though I didn't see the production so it's hard to say), but I say good for him for running with it, regardless. I also liked the very specific language and imagery (great Tiny Tim comparison, it got me there immediately). Quibble - would have liked to hear a better description of Babirak's performance beyond "knockout" - he didn't have to dwell on it, just use an adjective that told me a little more than the fact that he was good.

Nice work, all of you! - Missy Frederick, DCist

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