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April 16, 2010

When those about you have lost their heads...

Charles Isherwood takes on the issue of critics who have different reactions to a show than the audiences around them. He calls it the "odd-man-out syndrome".

Does the critic have a responsibility to include any reference to the audience's response, if it appears to be markedly different from his own? The pearl-clutching answer from reviewers who favor the ivory-tower approach would be certainly not. The critic's job is not, after all, to poll the opinions of Row G and report the median response. It is to offer his or her own perspective, hopefully informed by expertise, knowledge and taste.

But tastes range widely, and a thoughtful critic knows there is some gray area here that demands consideration. What if you happen to be a classical music writer with a wholesale aversion to Mozart? Because responses to artworks are so personal, a responsible critic must acknowledge that idiosyncratic predilections may play into his or her responses to a show, and must be careful to separate considered aesthetic judgments from plain old personal prejudice. (Or at least admit to plain old prejudice; "I hate farce," my guest informed me before the curtain went up.)

April 16, 2010 8:47 AM | | Comments (1)


Normal theatergoers can be unsettled by feeling like the odd one out. Theater critics simply get used to it. It's helpful for all of us to keep in mind that even "The Capeman" got standing ovations on Broadway. That audiences are loving "Lend Me a Tenor" is no surprise. It's a dreadful play, and not because our culture has changed since its premiere 20 years ago. (Blackface was horrifying to watch back then, too.) This production has a starry cast, including the beloved Tony Shalhoub, performing before a self-selected audience of people who want to laugh badly enough to pay rather large sums of money for the pleasure. They're not there for the same reason the critics are, and most of them are not in a critic's state of hyper-alertness.

Noting in the review the audience's reaction, when it is in some way remarkable, and clearly describing the work at hand are part of reporting, which is one of the main things that set serious criticism apart from amateur enthusing and drive-by snark.

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