Saturday, May 16, 2009

WC: The Weirdness of Writing Reviews

I've been enjoying reviewing plays over at Show Showdown, but I find myself frustrated by the customs of criticism. Reviews are supposed to be written without much reference to one's self, but, to me, the lack of the "I" makes it sound as though I am pontificating from on high. And who am I to pontificate? I'm just one person, and I'm often in the minority (eg, I disliked the generally adored new production of Our Town and was impressed by The Singing Forest, which my three co-audience members fled at the first intermission). Yet when I succumbed to writing in the "honest I," as in my reviews of Everyday Rapture and Mary Stuart, the reviews seemed unprofessional and less well-written. When I went back to the "omniscient know-it-all," as in Our Town and The Singing Forest, the reviews came across as, well, real reviews.

It's odd, really. Reviewers and critics can, and should, give reasons for their opinions, and certainly a knowledgeable writer can bring a particular insight to the table. But, ultimately, isn't it all just "I liked it" or "I didn't like it"? Is there any real difference between Ben Brantley and many other audience members other than he's in the Times and we're not? Yet his opinions, his preferences, can seriously affect the future of a show and will remain accessible for decades in the archives of "the paper of record." In our culture, we appoint people as experts--or they appoint themselves--but too often rather than being genuine experts, they're just well-located and/or well-connected.


Jon Sobel said...

It's a good point, Wendy. But don't forget - however "authoritative" the tone of a "formal" review, savvy readers still know that it's just one reviewer's opinion.

Wendy Caster said...