Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Review of Reviews: The Review

Okay, today I'm gonna talk about something unabashedly un-political! Feel free to nod off, or perk up...whatever is the opposite of what you do when I talk politics.

So the reviews are in. And here's what Salt Lake's City Weekly said:
A New Brain, Eleemosynary & Roundup
Small Stages: Three community theater companies bring new productions.

By City Weekly Staff

A New Brain
If a musical is going to go the “throughsung” route, it’s usually because something about the subject matter feels particularly operatic. William Finn’s musical aims for that level of emotional grandeur, and instead it swings between pleasantly quirky and merely overwrought.

There’s a certain appropriateness to telling the story of Gordon Schwinn (Jon McBride) in this fashion: He’s a composer who dreams of producing great work.

Unfortunately, his current job finds him penning silly ditties for a children’s television program—and his chance for ever creating something more profound is in doubt when he’s diagnosed with a rare brain disease.

Not surprisingly, the diagnosis puts Gordon in a contemplative frame of mind— and from there, Finn’s score spins in multiple directions. We get a glimpse of his childhood with a horse-betting father; a male nurse gets a solo describing himself as “Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat”; a wandering homeless woman (Julie Carrillo) offers odd insights. And it’s hard to get a handle on what a lot of this has to do with a man facing his mortality and turning it into a dark fantasia.

Dark Horse Company Theatre does put together a solid cast of performers to provide an evening’s entertainment. Carrillo is a vocal standout, as is Rhett Richins as Gordon’s lover Roger, who gets a gorgeous solo moment with “Sailing.” And there’s an effectively emotional scene of Gordon’s mother (Karin Gittins) letting loose her parental anguish in “The Music Still Plays On.” You’ll just need to make it through the parts of the story that didn’t quite require a whole song and dance.

—Scott Renshaw
Dark Horse Company Theatre
University of Utah Post Theatre
245 S. Fort Douglas Blvd.
Through Nov. 15

The 1980s were a good decade for thinky, conceptual plays that don’t really go anywhere but instead analyze things like “the relationships among three generations of women.” Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary is one of those. As such, it’s a humdinger; it’s the kind of script that people describe as “delicate.” This is because it’s all about those relationships, which are tricky.

These plays are really psychological whodunits: After the characters are introduced in all their inscrutable quirkiness, the main point is to drill down through layers of their past traumas until a common root to all their conflicting neuroses and motivations is miraculously revealed. In this case, the three generations of women are represented by metaphysical adventurer Dorothea (Jan Frederickson), her daughter Artemis who had eidetic memory of past events (Holly Fowers), and monomaniacal granddaughter Echo (Aly Dowe).

This particular psychological drill-down centers around the issue of intellectual development: Dorothea’s desire for an education was thwarted during an era when women were discouraged from such pursuits, so she made damned sure Artemis went to college; later, their mother/daughter conflict was played out in Echo, making her a shockingly fierce spelling-bee champion. The sins of the mothers are visited upon the daughter.

As Echo, Dowe is the standout in this production with her budding emotional range. Fowers’ Artemis remains stiff and reticent, and I was wishing for a broader performance from Frederickson as the wacky, free-spirited Dorothea.

Still, despite a few technical glitches, the show’s pacing is remarkably snappy. It’s a modest production, and an ambitious one. And, if Blessing’s play was an odd choice for Pinnacle, the challenge was well met. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

—Brandon Burt

Pinnacle Acting Company
Midvale Performing Arts Center
695 W. Center Street
Through Nov. 14

In Kurt Proctor’s world-premiere play Roundup, the romanticizing of the Old West is explored through family stories and a pile of old cowboy poems. We’re left wondering if that West ever really existed—or if that’s even a question worth asking.

Carl (Joe Welsch) feels he’s missed out on something. His dad was a real cowboy, keeping herds on the land before freerange was a catch phrase. His brother, Randy (Greg Peters), followed in those near-mythical bootprints but doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

It’s a promising premise, and Peters in particular offers a strong performance. However, the show doesn’t quite hold together. Rather than build and develop its themes and characters, Roundup pummels the audience with history, relationships and prejudices in the opening scene.

Characters talk over each other in a manner that is supposed to come off as naturalistic, but instead feels like an improvised rehearsal exercise.

Similarly jumbled is the depiction of the drinking problem of one of the characters. His alcoholism, its causes and the related concern of his family are unevenly portrayed, giving the development a disingenuous air.

However, the play does give insight to the core question of what it means to live in the West in the shadow of rugged individuals, be they real, imagined or somewhere in-between. The show is at its best when this territory is covered by two characters onstage, talking around a fire, under the stars—like we do in these parts.

— Rob Tennant

Utah Contemporary Theatre
Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
138 W. 300 South
Through Nov. 21
And ANY of this is useful? So I thought I'd respond:

It's a sad day when a newspaper review reveals more about the writer’s lack of research, experience, and/or writing abilities than about the work they he or she is reviewing. Obviously the above reviewers had only a few short paragraphs' space to describe and critique three entire shows. But that's no excuse for writing an incoherent, rambling synopsis then tacking on a couple critical sentences to pass off a half-assed assessment as a "review."

This does NOTHING for the theatre-going public, the performers, or the producing organization. A review should adequately discuss a production, and give the reader an idea of why your assessment is valid...or at least why youthink your assessment is valid. Regardless of whether the reviewer is dissecting a professional production or a “community” theatre piece, a valid, well-written, critical assessment is essential to the vitality of the theatre community…both the artists and the theatre-goers. If your newspaper can’t spare the resources to write an intelligent review, simply publish the company’s press release and leave it at that.

With a statement like "If a musical is going to go the “throughsung” (sic) route, it’s usually because something about the subject matter feels particularly operatic," Mr. Renshaw simply reveals either his lack of knowledge about the musical theatre genre or his laziness in formulating an opening argument. His entire review, but especially the opening paragraph, is a waste of the reader’s time and the newspaper’s space.

Mr. Tennant’s sweeping generalizations about UCT’s Roundup make the core of his review muddled and unreadable. In his middle paragraphs he has written nothing specific enough to be useful to either the artists or the public. The entire review feels like a first draft, hastily cobbled together from notes he made during the performance--all the while wishing he was working on one of his other "more important" deadlines.

Mr. Burt’s review of Eleemosynary is at least well written, but falls woefully short when, after three long paragraphs about the material, he takes two tiny paragraphs to actually discuss the production. Once again, the reviewer gives the reader very little information about the quality of the performances, direction, and overall production.

Finally, Mr. Renshaw, what the hell is “You’ll just need to make it through the parts of the story that didn’t quite require a whole song and dance.” supposed to mean? Your excruciating review of A New Brain is an embarrassment, plain and simple. If you find the material “swing[ing] between pleasantly quirky and merely overwrought” could you please take a moment to explain why? It sounds to me like you coined (or stole) an intelligent-sounding phrase with big five-dollar words but then not only failed provide context, you failed to check the dictionary to see what the words actually mean.

Rarely does a local reviewer actually write something useful anymore. Perhaps it’s because the newspaper industry is dying and reviewers are most often staff writers whose primary job is something more glamorous. But that’s no excuse for shoddy work. City Weekly readers expect and deserve better.

Suck it, City Weekly.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Gay

WARNING...this is a serious rant...with "adult" language. You might want to skip it and read something nicer if such things are likely to offend you. Perhaps this link would be more appropriate.

So did you hear about the election yesterday in Maine? The Maine legislature had passed a law giving gay couples full marriage rights...well, marriage state rights. The anti-gay marriage people made a big ol' stink, got something on the ballot, and by a small majority vote, the right of same-sex couples to legal recognition (and benefits) for their unions was revoked.

I'm so fucking tired of being nice. I'm so tired of fighting you "defenders of traditional marriage" for basic human rights. If marriage is a civil institution, the government has no business denying it to any two consenting adults. If it's a religious one, the laws have no business respecting one religion over another. Yet while we try to be respectful of your religious liberty, you use your religious freedom to deny our relationships civil equality. Frankly, I don't give a shit whether your church wants to marry the homos or not. Preach bigotry from your pulpit...that's a reflection on you, not on me. But when your religious beliefs trump not only my religious beliefs, but also basic human decency (and decades of scientific social research), it sounds a bit to me like this isn't the democratic republic I thought we lived's a theocracy, governed by your own narrow-minded dogma.

And the thing is, we don't want to overthrow your churches. We don't CARE about your churches. All we want is basic fairness. But you opponents of same-sex marriage aren't concerned with fairness or decency. All you can wrap their filthy little closed minds around is the idea of two men goin' at it. Never mind basic human rights, it's all about bum sex. And someone else's bum sex at that! Why should ANYONE care what happens in the bedroom of two consenting adults. Frankly I don't want to know what my siblings or parents (or any other straight couples) do in the privacy of their own boudoirs!

Okay, brace yourselves, it's "math" time. A disclaimer: these are VERY rough figures, based on cursory examinations of recent numbers on the US Census Bureau's website...I'm not a statistician and I'm sure there are HUGE mathematical errors, but I think the basic principles are sound-ish, and most importantly it illustrates the disproportionate hysteria over a relatively small matter. I'll indent the "math" stuff so you can skip it if necessary.

According to national estimates, in 2008 there were 304 million people living in the US. Approximately 60.1 million of them are married and living together. A little over 20% of the US population is under 15, and while I'm reluctant to include 16 year olds in the "marriage eligible" category, for the sake of argument let's include them. So there are 243.2 million people in this country who are marriage age. According to Kinsey's study in the 50's, about 10% of the population is gay-ish. More realistic estimates put that somewhere between 2% and 5%. So let's say it's 5%...which means there are about 12.1 million homos in the country. Now, given the above stats, about 1/4 of "marriage eligible" people (15 and over...yikes) are married and living together. So...assuming gays are as likely to marry as straights, which is a big assumption, about 3 million gays are actually affected by the illegality of gay marriage...or 1.5 million marriages. And if 3% of the population is gay, the numbers drop to 7.3 million homos, 1.8 million of whom will probably get married, resulting in about 900,000 marriages. Total. That's NOTHING! Definitely not much to warrant the public outrage.

Now...the divorce rate in the US is currently about 3.5 divorces per 1000 people...which works out to about 1.25 million divorces every year (of the slightly more than 60 million "functioning" marriages)...about 1/4 million fewer than gays who otherwise would marry, were marriage available. So the point is this: More "straight" marriages fail EVERY YEAR than gay marriages that would potentially exist. Let me repeat that another way: If gay marriage was legal, fewer than a million same sex marriages would happen. Period. Yet every year, all by themselves, 2.5 million straight people fuck up their own "traditional" marriages.

Who is the real threat to marriage? The six tenths of one percent of the population who actually WANTS to get married or the 50% of heterosexuals whose "traditional" marriages will end in divorce? Of all the straight marriages currently in the US, 2% will end this year alone.

But no, gays are the number one threat to marriage and freedom in this country. Asshole.

Ugh. Fine. If you want to be that way, I say let's REALLY do some damage to the "institution of traditional marriage." Let's get every gay person out there to marry someone of the opposite sex. And then flaunt it. "Oh yeah, we're married, but since marriage is such a farce we don't have sex with each other...instead we fuck around on the side...and while committed same-sex relationships aren't legal, THIS totally is." See what that does to the institution of marriage! I think it's time we give the conservatives what they've been asking for. Up to this point, our goal has been simply to have the same civil rights that every straight American enjoys. Yet they've framed as a war on marriage. Well I think it's time we do declare war on marriage. Obviously it's an antiquated, bigoted institution. So let's get government out of it altogether. Leave it to the churches. Revoke the tax benefits for married couples, for families. Drop inheritance rights completely. When your spouse dies, we're gonna tax the shit out of your house...hope you have savings...and by the way, if it's a joint savings, we're coming for that too. Deny hospital visitation to anyone who can't prove they are a blood relative. Fuck marriage...the institution reeks of your bigotry and hypocrisy. Just like I wouldn't join your church, I don't want your institution. And I don't want my country pandering to your bigotry either. Suck on that.

I really think the gays should stop respecting the rights of the people who won't respect theirs. Maybe it's time to stop begging for rights we won't get till the old bigots die off and start stripping the straights of their rights. And while we're at it, let's revoke the tax exempt status of churches.

Except we're better than that. We believe that fundamental human rights belong to everybody, regardless of religious ideology. And then when our values are attacked, when our rights are denied...we tend to turn the other cheek. Ironic, isn't it, that the so-called Christian right is receiving a fundamental lesson in Christianity from the homos.

Sorry for the rant.