One Man vs. “The Women”

TRS-CriticalCurtisIn 1977, I portrayed Willy Loman on the stage of the Harrisburg Community Theatre on the corner of Sixth and Hurlock in uptown Harrisburg. A critic for the Patriot-News called my performance “upbeat,” which was meant as an insult, but was buried in such a monumental pile of plot point expository drivel that I didn’t notice it until the man offered a backhanded apology at our closing night reception.

As he ran to the bathroom to mop cheap champagne from his face, I called his mother a whore. I’ve never really had a taste for critics.

“You insulted me?” I asked.

“Yes, I called you upbeat. Willy should be depressing,” he nodded smugly.

As he ran to the bathroom to mop cheap champagne from his face, I called his mother a whore. I’ve never really had a taste for critics.

It is with that admission that I offer the following: my first-ever critique.

The all-female cast of Theatre Baton Rouge's production of The Women.
The all-female cast of Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of The Women.

You see, for the past few weeks, I’ve been staring at a clip on my desk from The Advocate of a review of Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “The Women.” I saw this particular show and, upon reading George Morris’ review, noticed several glaring omissions on top of his pile of cynical snipes. His tone and attitude were nothing special in this review in comparison with others he has written, but as a regular patron of the theater, it was this review in particular that finally sent me over the edge.

When reading one of Morris’ reviews, it is expected that the female cast will be either insulted or disregarded entirely in favor of whichever male lead has stolen this local Kaufman’s heart for the evening. However, “The Women” has an entirely female cast. This is not something that should surprise a “theater critic” or an “arts critic” or even a 6-year-old accompanying his grandmother to a Sunday matinee.

For heaven’s sake, the play was written in 1936. There should have been plenty of opportunity for George to come to terms with the cast at some point between the Vietnam War and the advent of the smartphone. Yet here he is, willing to take time away from chastising the actresses for not spoon-feeding their jokes to the audience to criticize the writer of the work (it should be noted she died 26 years ago).

There should have been plenty of opportunity for George to come to terms with the cast at some point between the Vietnam War and the advent of the smartphone.

“Everything the audience learns about the husbands comes through conversation. While the play focuses on how the women interact with each other, it means much of what happens is told, not shown. The tension that could come from direct confrontation is missing.”

This bitch. (implied eye roll)

To approach theater criticism in the era of HDTV and CGI with an acidic pen at the ready is poor taste as is. Live performances are important for retaining a sense of art as a living, breathing thing today more than ever before. To do so in regard to community theater productions, which feature unpaid local actors, many of whom are onstage for the first time, is cowardly even for a critic. But here we see no true criticism, only a middle school book report peppered with enough saucy language toward the actresses to remind the reader that he did, in fact, attend the show.

Even his snipes are gutless gibes hissed out the side of his mouth at a urinal as he attempts to distract his neighbor so he can sneak a peek at his wedding tackle. Cowardly “Hey yous” meant to fill space. At one point, he refers to the 9-year-old actress, Kennedy Ross, who played the daughter in the show, as a “distracting oddity.” To anyone who skipped out on the show because of Morris’ review, this comment itself is a distracting oddity.

If he had an ounce of actual gall, he would have said what every blue-haired octogenarian seated in front of me at that matinee said in a collected hushed whisper that reverberated off the proscenium when Ross came on stage the first time. Though the main character, Mary, was played by a white actress, her daughter in the play was black.

Let’s all pretend for a moment that we don’t live a city where that’s the first thing any old lady who comes to see this show will notice. Even then, by intermission, even the slowest member of the audience will be distracted by the internal monologue whizzing through her head in regard to the cast.

Georgie ducks out of the way of this question like a fat kid skirting the salad bar for free ice cream, leaving readers wondering what his vague meaning is concerning this show he obviously doesn’t want them to see.

“Wait, this is 1936, right? So is the little girl adopted? If not, then Mary is in the middle of an illegal marriage, isn’t she? Or is this the story of a man who leaves his wife after spending seven years coming to the conclusion that his wife may have cheated on him shortly after their wedding?”

But Georgie ducks out of the way of this question like a fat kid skirting the salad bar for free ice cream, leaving readers wondering what his vague meaning is concerning this show he obviously doesn’t want them to see. That he disregards one actress so blatantly should not be a surprise given his utter dismissal of the majority of the cast.

Chrissy Bienvenu was cartoonishly delightful as the Countess Delage, and Jordan Parrish expertly channeled Melissa McCarthy as the constantly pregnant Edith. Neither of them were mentioned in the afterthought of a nod he gave the cast at the end of his rant. He did, however, say the 9-year-old actress “handled herself well.” I’m assuming this smack of largesse is his way of saying she capably kept from falling into the audience and killing a feeble nursing home patient out on a day pass.

If anything good can be said about this review, it is that it certainly helped me in the bathroom as I read it for the first time that morning. I can think of no greater laxative than one of George Morris’ attempts at criticism.RedShtick-Top-ColumnStop

About Romeo Greg, KA

Romeo Greg, KA
Romeo Greg, KA, has spent the best part of his life traveling and indulging his passion for the arts with his longtime partner Stoycos. He enjoys fine food whenever possible, and Irish whiskey with breakfast.

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