Reading a recent review of Frump Tucker Theatre Company’s production of Reckless [November 24] spurred me to ask “Where’s the beef?”–the meat of the criticism, of course.
What I did read, however, was an attack of the director’s past side projects, a jokey putdown of the theater company’s name, and a clever parallel to high school theater–all anecdotes that would make any aspiring curmudgeon clap their hands with joy but alas, does nothing to further the art of insightful theater criticism or even provide a reader with a clue to what the play was about.
I also attended Reckless early in its run and witnessed some limp direction in parts but watched a wonderful troupe of highly comedic actors fighting to soar above an outdated, sitcom-ish script. Even as my sole opinion, that single sentence alone was far more complex than anything I read in the Reader’s recent three-paragraph review.
Should Mr. Helbig or any Reader reviewer loathe a production with the same fire of one that he or she loves? Absolutely. We expect it. But true criticism is hardly a string of zippy one-liners and gleeful put-downs. First, petty insults are insulting to the reader because they’ve wasted their time searching for an intelligent response to a show but have instead found themselves muddled within the reviewer’s own desire to pontificate, not probe. Secondly–and perhaps most importantly–mean-spirited reviews are most insulting to the players involved in the show because their laborious work is presented in such a vicious and disrespectful light that it endorses a throwaway attitude towards the Chicago theater community instead of a nurturing, constructive one it so direly deserves.
The one who may suffer the most by a review like this is Mr. Helbig himself. In his words, such a “lifeless . . . lousy, blandly” written review prompts the reader to think: If a critic has had their share of bad theater and has replaced a basic respect for the people who work at it with nothing but bitterness and self-serving sarcasm, isn’t it time to take some time off?