Awkward Company

TRS-CriticalCurtisCilantro is a special little plant. Long a staple of Mexican cuisine, cilantro (or coriander, as some know it) is also quite divisive among food critics. This, however, has nothing to do with taste or exposure but instead is brought on by an actual physical inability to experience the pleasant citrus notes of the leaf.

I, myself, am one of those unlucky individuals with an OR6A2 variant in my olfactory genes, which makes me more receptive to aldehyde chemicals and causes me to experience “Chinese parsley” as a flavor akin to soap. I’m not personally offended by people who enjoy cilantro, because I understand that my inability to enjoy it is a product of my own physiology. Likewise, I’d never tear into a chef for including it in a world-renowned dish just because it would make it impossible for me to enjoy it, as well.

In a similar biochemical reception situation, the brains of the elderly have a more difficult time taking in dopamine. Dopamine is an amazing chemical that allows us to take in new experiences with emotion and pleasure, among many other functions. It is a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and like anything pleasant, it is more easily taken in by the youth who have not had their senses dulled by overexposure.

Fourteen of anything is enough to make a product’s appreciation a near requirement, especially for someone purporting to be expert enough in the field of that particular thing to be willing to publicly criticize it.

This physical inability to experience pleasure in new and difficult situations is the only conceivable reason I can think of to explain The Advocate’s George Morris’ latest Theater 101 book report of a review for Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

The opening lines of his review are as follows, “Is there a law requiring reviewers to like a play that won six Tony Awards? If so, alert the theater police.”

The answer to this question is, of course, “No.”

UNLESS YOU ARE A THEATER CRITIC!!!

Company not only won six Tony Awards when it premiered in 1970, but it was nominated for a record-shattering 14. FOURTEEN! Fourteen of anything is enough to make a product’s appreciation a near requirement, especially for someone purporting to be expert enough in the field of that particular thing to be willing to publicly criticize it.

Elaine Stritch, who herself won five Tonys in her lifetime (one for Company), can be seen in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary on the cast recording of Company (definitely worth a watch) literally pulling her hair out over the complexity of “Ladies Who Lunch” while admitting it’s “good material” that she’s trying her damnedest to handle.

I’ve ranted before about Morris’ inability to distinguish “criticism” from “synopsis,” about his difficulty grasping the importance of separating a show written before most of the cast was born from the performance of the material, and about his attempts at “edginess” via disliking something that the entire world has stated appreciation for. In this review, we see all of these held up to light yet again.

No, Company is not a musical you will be singing in the shower. The songs, at times, can come at the audience like a cacophonous flood. But the ability of the performers to synchronize the different parts into one cohesive piece of music is what makes it amazing. Morris didn’t need to read up on Sondheim, or Company, or the history of modern musical theater to get this idea into his uncultured skull. He only needed to read the title of the play.

His criticism of Company is the latest in a string of reviews that miss the point of informing the public about the quality of local productions and instead meander through his own impressions of the work and whatever synopsis he can glean from Wikipedia.

Company refers not only to the guests in Bobby’s home, but to the company of players performing the work. It is a difficult, collaborative effort by the entire cast to work together while at the same time vocally butting heads. For a community theater to attempt it is gutsy. To pull it off as well as TBR did is nothing short of miraculous.

Theatre-baton-rouge-company
Jason Dowies (left) and Michael Ruffin (right) star in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Company.

Morris, himself, at no time criticizes the performers for being inept, in fact calling them “capable singers.” The closest he comes to actual criticism of the production is stating that Jason Dowies has had better performances. He has, true, but this is mainly because he tends to lionize his roles, something that doesn’t really apply to the self-pitying, narcissistic, directionless man-child Bobby, who despite being 35 is still sport-screwing his way through New York’s impressionable young ladies before they can wise up to how big of a waste he is.

As a writer, Morris seems to be becoming just as directionless. His criticism of Company is the latest in a string of reviews that miss the point of informing the public about the quality of local productions and instead meander through his own impressions of the work and whatever synopsis he can glean from Wikipedia.

But just so you don’t think I’m picking on Gorgeous George for ignorantly tearing into an American musical theater classic, may I draw your attention to another of his recent reviews? In an attempt to find a subject that he can adequately wrap his dopamine-deprived mind around, George maniacally swung the dull blade of his criticism at the vast culinary topography of the Red Stick.

Baton Rouge is a city that loves to eat and has new and intriguing restaurants popping up almost every week. Eschewing the difficulty of a new experience, Morris instead tackled the oh-so-divisive world of Chinese take-out.

I’m waiting with baited breath for his upcoming review of the new McDonald’s near my mother’s house.

In his January 23 review of the strip mall, to-go eatery “New China,” George stretches the limit of his grasp to explain how this Chinese take-out restaurant is set up mainly for take-out of the Chinese variety. He explains that “you pretty much know what to expect in a Chinese restaurant” before explaining exactly what you can expect in a Chinese restaurant by describing different, common, take-out fare as though he’d just hopped off a boat from Tuvalu and was being introduced to it for the first time. He then closes with, “All of our orders came out hot and quickly. But that doesn’t surprise you, does it?”

No, it doesn’t. I’m waiting with baited breath for his upcoming review of the new McDonald’s near my mother’s house. Will the fries be like redheads, either hot or totally disgusting? Can I expect to find two pickles and a sprinkle of diced onion on my cheeseburger? Will the apple pies scorch the skin on the roof of my mouth like molten lead? Who knows?! George hasn’t applied his critical acumen to it yet.

In the future, I’d suggest Morris stretch himself critically by taking a swing at something as exotic as gyros or a taco truck. I’d also suggest he avoid trying to come off as a regional “poison pen” by dive-bombing productions via ignorantly criticizing respected works of writers with 50-year careers and more awards and acclaims than grains of rice one finds in the bottom of a folded take-out container.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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