That's the question that I've been pondering since coming across a few posts and discussion threads on the sites of my fellow bloggers Aaron Riccio of That Sounds Cool and Isaac Butler of Parabasis. It was humbling that my blogging colleagues had to call attention to something that was happening in my own backyard, but I'm nonetheless grateful to them for the tip off.
It seems that after Louise Kennedy of the Boston Globe gave the Huntington Theater's production of Pirates a bad review, Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso put up a post on the theater's blog taking Kennedy to task, and asking readers to speak out against her. Quoth Maso:
In over three decades of producing plays, I have never felt such a disconnect between the experience in the theatre and the reflection of a critic. Louise's first line displays her anger at the fact that the audience was responding with cheers and laughter throughout the evening, and her condescension to the audience and artists alike is breathtaking.
Maso goes on:
I have no theory about what is behind this review. I only know that the destructive power of one person, when that person is given the imprimatur of the region's largest newspaper, needs to be balanced by the voices of the thousands who have already let us know about the joy they have found in the laughter, the music, the wit, and the sheer artistry displayed by those involved in this production.
Um, Michael, how's this for a theory: she didn't like the show. And she has every right to say so. Maso and his minions seem to be of the mind that critics should somehow factor the audience response into their reviews. Well, guess what, people: Audiences stood and cheered at the end of Lestat, The Pirate Queen, and Frankenstein. I know, because I was there. And those shows were all unmitigated dreck. And I have it on good authority that they were cheering in the aisles at the end of Carrie, too.
Kennedy's review wasn't particularly vitriolic, but it was honest. Maso appears to be trying to save face with what is in fact a popular but artistically disappointing show. (Read my review.) What Maso intended to be a rallying of the troops turned out merely to call unfortunate attention to the bad review (which I hadn't even read until the advent of this little tempest in a teapot), and give the theater a black eye in the blogosphere. Plus, fomenting ad hominem attacks against a critic may not be the best way to curry favor in the eyes of the critical community. But here's something that should please Maso: with the decline of daily newspapers, theater bloggers are becoming increasingly influential voices, in effect decentralizing the force of critical opinion away from the previously powerful papers.
As I said in my review, I didn't really like Pirates, either, and I had my own little Maso moment when I received an angry email from the actor playing the Pirate King, Steve Kazee. I had said that it was beginning to look as though his "charisma-deprived" performance as Starbuck opposite Audra MacDonald in the recent Broadway revival of 110 in the Shade "wasn't a fluke." Kazee took great issue with my appraisal, and said so in strong, borderline threatening terms. (He dared me to come down to the Huntington and say these "hurtful" words to his face.) Kazee and I had a spirited conversation back and forth, and we eventually parted on cordial terms. I basically said that I reserved the right to call 'em as I see 'em, and he exorted me to remember that there are real people with feelings on the receiving end of my reviews. Fair enough.
So, dear reader, what is the job of the critic? I would submit that it's *not* the same as the job of the reporter: to dispassionately relay the facts and give equal voice to all sides. As the title implies, a "critic" is charged with weighing the merits of a particular show against his or her own set of aesthetic and artistic criteria. How could it possibly be otherwise?