An Open Letter to a Reviewer

An Open Letter to a Reviewer

Dear Alice Singleton,

This is a new one for me. I’ve gotten reviews with which I have disagreed, but I have never felt insulted by one. I’ve certainly never felt the need to respond. I took this long to respond out of respect for the show. I didn’t want to raise a stink while we were still running.

On Wednesday, April 25th, 2012, the web publication Gapers Block ran your review of Strawdog Theatre’s The Duchess of Malfi. I had the privilege of participating in that production as a cast member and co-fight choreographer. I am proud of the work I did on that show, and proud of what the cast accomplished. I will not claim that it was a great show – plenty of other reviewers pointed out its many flaws – but I am astounded that our little production could have produced the level of smug disdain and outright rudeness exhibited in your review.

First of all, to get my own little personal gripe out of the way: “Shoe-black”? What? I had nothing more in my hair than regular old styling gel. Lots of it. I was playing a greasy, slimy character so we gave him greasy slimy hair. You compared my look to Otto from Beetlejuice. I… don’t have a problem with that, actually. That particular character did not come up in the early design discussions as far as I’m aware, but it’s a valid choice. The whole show was intended to be over the top. You know… “theatrical.”

Also, your concern about cast members tripping over themselves backstage? That was me, too. Tripped over a curtain and threw my hand out to stop myself from falling. Slapped it hard against the wall. Made a big loud noise. Sorry about that. It gets really dark back there! I suppose they could turn on more lights, but you were already having so much difficulty handling a “big-ass show in a small-ass space” and we didn’t want to upset your refined sensibilities.

Most of the issues you raise in your bullet-point list wrap up into one basic complaint: The show was not big enough for you. You wanted a bigger stage, and fancier costumes. You wanted to see money. You did NOT want to see Chicago storefront theatre. Yes, anyone can stay home and watch TV, as you suggested, but perhaps someone who thinks plays would be better served at the Lyric is unaware, or cannot appreciate, that attending the theatre is an entirely different experience. The Chicago storefront theatre aesthetic may not be for everybody, but for those who truly appreciate theatre created at the ground level, there is no better place to find it. Your review, Ms. Singleton, makes it apparent that you cannot appreciate a play unless you can see money in it. And I feel sorry for you for that.

Or it’s possible you just don’t like being that close. Certainly, the Lyric would allow you that oh-so-comfortable separation between the audience and the actors, but I can tell you that no matter how close you are sitting, all of the costumes are held together with safety pins.

Which brings me to your “advice” for the actress who played Julia. Is it possible you are not aware that even though a character may die onstage, the actor playing that character remains alive, and usually continues to breathe? And furthermore, most characters who die onstage do so in a violent manner, which tends to be physically demanding for the actor? If you are unable to suspend your disbelief enough to accept this very standard theatrical convention, how can you possibly be expected to appreciate or even understand the rest of the play? Or ANY play? Or have you just never sat close enough to notice?

Strawdog’s The Duchess of Malfi was far from a perfect show. But you held it up to standards that simply do not apply. And because it didn’t fit your mold, you spent half your review repeating the Wikipedia plot description, then descended into bullet-pointed condescension and insults. “Slather on plenty of Prep H”? As a 280-pound person who has sat in those chairs many times, I think that comment says more about you and your, ahem, issues, than anything wrong with the theatre or our play.

(CLICK HERE to read the original review.)

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1 Comment

One response to “An Open Letter to a Reviewer”

  1. Well written, Chris. I stand with you on all points.

    David Bareford

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