Last weekend I saw a play about a very scary character: a theater critic. Charles Marowitz’s Stage Fright was presented by one of Cincinnati’s fine community theaters, Mariemont Players.
I didn’t go to see it as a critic but as an acquaintance of the director. I had met the three actors onstage previously, and they and my friend did a fine job of telling the story of wreaking vengeance on a vicious critic guilty of wounding a pair of actors — if not outright ruining their careers. But it wasn’t my job to critique their performances. I really went to be supportive.
Marowitz is a respected director, a playwright and at least occasionally a critic who works mostly in New York City. He had a long affiliation with London’s Royal Shakespeare Company and is known for interesting adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. He surely has experience in the subject matter of his dark comedy. (One of his plays was savaged in 1987 by the “Butcher of Broadway,” New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, who wrote, “in Sherlock’s Last Case … Marowitz and accomplices have so completely diminished Victorian England’s most beloved detective that one leaves the play wishing its title were a promise rather than merely an idle threat.”)
In Stage Fright, two actors, a husband and wife, hogtie the nasty E.F. Charnick (whose name, it so happens, is almost an anagram of “Frank Rich”), threaten him with his demise, plumb the depths of his nastiness and then move on — having extracted a guarantee of sorts that he won’t afflict them again.
Marowitz’s play must be a delicious fantasy for actors and directors who feel that critics are a plague. But I want to offer a defense: I know more critics who love theater than who live to spew out negativity. In fact, I’ve often said it seems nonsensical (if not masochistic) to carve out a career as a critic if you hate the theater and never enjoy the experience. Why subject yourself to night after night of torture, if you really find actors or directors incompetent or self-serving?
No group of actors and theater enthusiasts, amateur or professional, sets out to stage a bad production. Every play or musical begins with good intentions. Not all achieve the desired result, but in almost every production there are aspects worth praising, elements or performances that can entertain an audience.
When I go to the theater, my outlook is generally optimistic. I often find myself saying, “I’m really looking forward to this one.” I hate to be disappointed, of course, and it's my job to report to CityBeat readers when a production fails, but I endeavor to do so with generosity. And I try to praise what’s worth seeing.
To be realistic, every show isn’t perfect. But much of what happens onstage locally is excellent, and I hope my writing occasionally leads you to the theater. The current list of worthy productions include The Fall of Heaven at Cincinnati Playhouse (my review here), My Name Is Asher Lev at Ensemble Theatre (Tom McElfresh's review here) and Cincinnati Shakespeare's double-bill of works by Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill (my review here).
I’ll never be one of those “poison pen” critics, especially after seeing Stage Fright. Even if I were, however, there wouldn’t be much to write about in Cincinnati.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]