Everyone's a Critic, Season 2: Get a Load of these Ledes

Today's assignment is a quick hit: write just the lede for a review of Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon. Seems simple enough, one opening paragraph, done and done. Well, it's not. Here's the thing: several of the O'Neill Critics Institute students wrote what Michael Phillips--when he taught my NEA critics' class--called an "iris shot" lede. It's the specific moment in a production that illustrates exactly why you loved or hated the production, or maybe highlights the production's goals and shows how the team succeeded or failed. Plus, since it's just a lede, that paragraph needs to be a megawatt beacon that illuminates the path to your eventual (and in this case, imaginary) conclusion.

So go on and tell us: which lede/s makes you want to keep reading, and why.

Shawn Arnold

"Oh no, not again." The room spins. A woman on a chair writhes and contorts. She grips the seat, but it is no use. Falling with a thud, she flops about as a white vortex opens behind her. Snap! All suddenly goes black. The woman opens her eyes in a nursery and discovers she is now A BABY! This is but one of the many reincarnations of Miss Witherspoon. In Christopher Durang's absurdly funny play, Keuka College presents a fable--with a few stumbles--that will keep the audience asking, "WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY?!"

Amy Asendorf

Tip: When searching for a personal sense of fulfillment, it is wise to begin with a healthy dose of suicide. Go right ahead! Run into oncoming traffic, overdose, invite the dog to nibble on your flesh. Any method will suffice! Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon, as performed by Keuka College, offers a surprisingly comical take on the perpetual conflict consuming every down-and-out existentialist. Though the journey to happiness may be long, even the hopeless can rest assured events are cosmically ordained to bring meaning to life. However, with this production, the journey is so long and convoluted, hope is nearly impossible to extract.

Nicholas Barilar

Chicken Little, Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings' wizard), an abusive parent, an Indian angel, suicide, and Jesus Christ in a muu muu are now available in one convenient package! All of these characters--and more--reside in Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon. As an added bonus, they'll throw in brilliantly conveyed messages about the weight of consequence and the redemptive power of self, all delivered in a satiric fashion, all for no extra charge!

Robby Bassler

Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon tugged my soul between heaven and hell. Maryamma (Meghan Russell) a Hindu goddess wrapped in a divine blue and gold sari, pondered the meaning of reincarnation while alternately adopting the stereotypical Indian accent of The Simpsons' Apu and the Jamaican patois of infomercial queen Miss Cleo. As these contradictions snowballed, Miss Witherspoon left me in limbo.

Michael Cook

The world is in danger because humans can't just get along, the sky is falling, events from decades past traumatize one woman. Only one person can stand up and save humanity. Who is this hero? Why, Miss Witherspoon of course! Chistopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon tracks our reluctant hero's spiritual journey through the afterlife. As with many other Durang plays, no topic is taboo and audiences will find themselves laughing at topics they'd otherwise find uncomfortable. However, Keuka College's recent production was like reluctantly going on a spiritual journey that no one could stop once it started. 

Mark Costello

A young woman of no more than 21 flops around like a beached sea creature. She's writhing in a big way, as though her brown-hued, business-casual outfit is made of peanuts and she's allergic. Her eyes strain upward, her face is almost on the ground, and in a terrified flash, her hand darts back toward her raised hindquarters. Stunned confusion soon trumps horror, as said hand spastically fans an imaginary flame. We soon get it: she's pretending to be a dog. This unfortunate, disturbing mishandling of Christopher Durang's pleasantly dark comedy is the norm in Keuka College's Miss Witherspoon, directed by Mark Wenderlich.

Connor Davis

Is this Heaven? Nope, it's purgatory, and unless you quit killing yourself you're going to stay here for all eternity! Sticking around may be a problem for suicidal Veronica, who rests uneasily at the center of Christopher Durang's Pulitzer Prize-finalist farce Miss Witherspoon. Keuka College's witty tongue-in-cheek production puts audience members in Veronica's shoes. Fueled by rapid comedic timing and absurdist farce, director Mark Wenderlich creates a fun production that's stimulates the mind with ideas about morality and hope.

Valerie Gibbs

"Who said life has to move forward? Can't it move backwards, too?" Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon, directed by Mark Wenderlich, provides a unique response to this question.  In the place between life on earth and eternal afterlife, we find Miss Witherspoon - a woman forced into perpetual reincarnation until she rids herself of bad karma and achieves divine enlightenment. Unfortunately, this production struggles to accomplish a similar goal.

Peter Starr Northrop

So the lights came up for Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon and immediately this insufferable woman started yammering into a telephone. Her tone was flat, her voice irritating. I groaned at the thought of listening to her prattle on for a whole production, and held that thought for all of two seconds when, suddenly, the sky fell down and she died--much to the audience's delight. This is how a legendary show begins. 

Nathan Taylor

Ever wanted to see a two-week-old baby incite an invisible dog named Fido into mauling her to death? Never fear, Keuka College is here with Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon. With the edge of a baseball bat, this script remains a gift from heaven while the production clings to tearing pages as flames lick at its feet.

Jensen Toperzer

Keuka College's production of Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon is a manic dive through contemporary American culture, filled with rapid-fire commentary on everything from the post-9/11 culture of fear to modern New Age 'crystal and candle' religions. Sara Munio's Veronica bemoans her fate (a series of unhappy reincarnations), inviting a playful sense of cathartic schadenfreude. But the true show-stealer is Meghan Russell as quirky, overly cheerful guru Maryamma.

Kelly Wetherald

Is life like a box of chocolates? No. Life is a dream-cycle filled with suffering, sacrifice, and perpetual annoyance; at least according to Miss Witherspoon, Christopher Durang's suicidal cynic starving for peace in the afterlife. Keuka College's production of Miss Witherspoon came to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival stage to express dual ideas: the importance of reincarnation and society's future survival. Did it achieve those goals? Or was the hour and a half simply a one man show with an abusive mother, Hindu spiritual guide and invisible dog named Fido thrown in for spice?

January 15, 2010 7:40 AM | | Comments (8)


Shawn: Great lede, enjoyed the imagery!

Amy: Your ledes are consistently strong! You place your audience into the world immediately while directing your audience toward what they need to focus on.

Robby: Apu and Miss Cleo puts your audience immediately into the world of this play. Simple, and memorable. Nice Job

Nic: I agree with Valerie with having the first line a little too lengthy. It does keep me engaged and interested to see what comes next.

Michael: The first sentence needs to be revised, because at the moment it makes no. Your second sentence makes me realize what you are getting. Synthesizing these ideas into one will help.

Mark: Great imagery, that draws me hook, line and sinker in to this review.

Valerie: Simple, engaging, and direct. Well done.

Peter: Last sentence is stellar!

Nathan: Your last sentence needs reworking, but overall I can see where your angle is.

Jensen: Rework the first sentence, and provide the audience with more attention to what your angle is.

Kelly: Streamline your ideas a bit in the middle. Your beginning and ending are engaging and create a distinct image.

Amy- Your lede is quite good!!! Hook is especially effective.

Nic- Do you really need the description of Gandalf. It seems a bit much. I enjoy your sort of salesman voice that you use at first.

Robby- Your use of the mixed bag feelings you have about an actor to represent the mixed bag feelings you have about the play is a wise choice.

Michael- Try stream lining this paragraph. Some empty space, “Who is this . . . of course” just to name a few.

Mark- Not so sure about the use of “big way.” It takes me out of it. I like the idea of proposing a suit allergy though. Clever, clever. I think this is pretty solid.

Connor- Fun isn’t . . . well fun.

Valerie- The end makes me want to keep reading!!!

Peter- Maybe try taking out the “all of” it isn’t really needed. Kill your "legendary" baby though.

Nathan- I’m not quite sure what you mean by “edge of a baseball bat.” The 1st sentence grabs my attention, and the slight reference to Underdog is funny.

Jensen- Nice use of points. Maybe work on a better hook.

Kelly- Trim it down a bit. "Suicidal cynic" is great fun! :)

Shawn – the fact that this is obviously not your typical scenario immediately draws me in. Nice imagery in the beginning.

Amy – Love the opening sentence! If I had not seen the show, I seriously would have been like, “WHAT!?!?!” Each sentence kept me wanting more. Way to go!

Nicholas – that first sentence is quite wordy and leaves me a bit confused. Maybe limit it down to fewer things.

Robby – I feel that “tugged” is not quite the right word… maybe, “suspended”. I dunno, but it sounds a bit awkward to me. However, the rest was entertaining while establishing a clear picture of how you feel about this show.

Michael – I think this could have been condensed, it is a lot of words.

Mark – great mental image with the analogy of being allergic. Kind of long, but informative and I get a real sense for the craziness of the show.

Connor – the beginning grabs my attention, but the rest becomes a bit bland… more imagery

Peter – nice twist for the reader at the end. Your feelings about the show are quite clear already, but I feel “legendary” does not quite fit. Is legendary good or bad here?

Nathan – The first sentence in all honesty, though funny, kinda scares me. Upon first reading it my immediate response to the question was a worried, “no”. I’m not sure I understand the baseball bat comparison.

Jensen – first sentence is LONG – any way to make it more concise? And what exactly is schadenfreude? Maybe its just me, but I have no clue what that word means!

Kelly – I especially love “suicidal cynic starving for peace”. The ending is wordy and could probably be reworked to be more concise.

Issac: Yes, she has our permission.

Shawn - Not only excellent imagery, but wonderful sense of the show on a whole

Amy - I'm not sure from this that I know whether or not you liked it... hope in the production or in the play itself? Also, in response, had my title been included you might have gotten it... "An Amazing Deal: Miss Witherspoon" I wanted to sell the enjoyable show by literally trying to sell it... perhaps it was executed poorly or maybe I should have just been more traditional. I just wanted to try something a little different.

Robby - I love the use of Apu and Miss Cleo... excellent choices that give me a clear vision.

Michael - Be careful of describing Witherspoon as a hero... this is an arguable point as it is; however, I find that this gives away the ending just a bit if you argue that she is...

Mark - Wonderful... I know exactly how you feel but your imagery makes me want to go on.

Connor - Nice, simple approach.

Valerie - This is tied together nicely.

Peter - I really like this... maybe it's the contrast at the end...

Nathan - It's just a bit much...

Jensen - Explain schadenfreude... perhaps who Veronica is as well?

Kelly - "one man show"... the use of this confuses me... is it in comparison to the "duel ideas"?

Absolutely. It was part of the program both last year and this year. In fact, they'd like as much feedback from theater and journalism pros as possible.

Shawn- AWESOME imagery. Careful with the generic "funny" and "a few stumbles".

Nick- The dissonant list you start with is certainly interesting, but are you going for a review or an infomercial?

Robby- Exclude the personal pronouns. Would your review center around Maryamma? Love the allusions.

Michael- Is Witherspoon really a hero? Love the taboo comment. You could even be more harsh in your closing sentence-why would we want to stop it?

Mark- Beautiful imagery and prose, as always. However, for someone who HAS seen the show, the iris shot seems to aptly describe Witherspoon's reincarnation process as well.

Connor- Love the opening sentences; I definitely want to keep reading! But it's hard to tell where you're heading with "stimulates the mind".

Valerie: This was one of my favorite ledes! I absolutely love the last two sentences.

Peter: Careful with personal pronouns. Loved where you're headed, I can def hear your voice, but the last sentence was off-putting and unrelated.

Nathan: Love the start, but the last sentence contains so much imagery that it's difficult to digest your point. Streamline it.

Jensen: Love your specifics. Make sure to explain schadenfreude (for those who have not seen Avenue Q)

Kelly: You have a lot in here to summarize the basic experience of the show. Your last sentence really makes me want to hear more!

Just a quick question: Did you get your student's permission before posting their work online? Before weighing in on which ones I prefer, I just wanted to make sure they know that's what we're doing here.

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