Ten New Year's Resolutions for a Theater Critic

Michael Raabe as Polonius and Aaron Echegaray as Hamlet in the Trebuchet Players' recent production
Michael Raabe as Polonius and Aaron Echegaray as Hamlet in the Trebuchet Players' recent production
Photo by Signal2Noise Photography

Editor's note: Jim J. Tommaney is not just a theater critic, but a playwright, director and actor.

1. Don't make notes during a performance. It can distract performers. A leading critic in another city sits in the front row and scribbles away -- it drives the actors crazy.

2. Allow some leeway in casting, which can be difficult for smaller theaters, but where serious mistakes are made, identify them. Allow less leeway for the larger theaters, which should have fewer problems here.

3. Be gentle with "actors-in-training." Stage time is a wonderful learning process. Even Laurence Olivier had to start somewhere. The next performance from a newbie actor might surprise you.

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4. Have the courage to condemn the inept, no matter how many laurels are worn. Are you going to believe the rave reviews, or your lying eyes? Go for the eyes.

5. Don't judge by appearances. A man need not be an Adonis to be a ladykiller, nor a woman ravishing to be a femme fatale. But, if not physically alluring, charm or wit might be expected.

6. The age of an actress is a door best not opened, unless a woman past 60 is playing Amanda in Private Lives. (Joan Collins was great at 55.)

7. If one thinks a director has misunderstood the play, consider whether his take might not be a refreshing insight, before penning the javelin. Bear with it if the poetry of Shakespeare is jettisoned, but speak up if Shakespeare's energy is lost.

8. Give credit to the designers, where a set, a lighting cue or a sound effect can enhance the magic. They, along with the playwright, often go unheralded.

9. Accept cheerfully brickbats from directors. After all, they have just given birth. Postpartum is a delicate phase.

10. Cherish the unexpected. Live theater can delight, but where it also surprises, consider yourself twice blessed.

And turn off the cell phone!


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