I’m close to the production. My fiancee is in it. Friends are involved with it. I have a fondness for The Alban. Due to my biases, I can’t claim to write an objective review.
However, the review published by The Charleston Gazette can hardly claim objectivity, either. Autumn Hopkins, the reviewer, turned in one of the most brutal, and I would say unfair, reviews I’ve ever seen published in Charleston.
She apparently lets her intense hatred of the play cloud her mission of judging how well this local production deals with the work. If you know going in that you hate a play, there are two professional ways to handle it. First, you can decline the assignment. I’ve done it, and continue to do it when I don’t want to crank out a hatchet job just for the sake of being a jerk.
Your second option is to rise above your personal prejudices and judge the production on its other merits. This is a valuable exercise for anyone wanting to write criticism professionally. I’ve been doing just that for over twenty years, and it’s improved the quality of my work. Reviews are opinion pieces, but they are still supposed to be about their subject, not the author.
A few years ago I had to go see a musical that I absolutely hate. Several friends of mine were in it, and I felt obligated to go. I put aside my distaste for the material and witnessed one of the most amazing, broadway-quality, musicals I’ve ever seen staged locally, one performed with a passion and fire that sticks with me to this day. I was able to look my friends in the eye and tell each one that they did a spectacular job.
I still hated every song in the show and consider the work to be highly-overrated, but the performance was truly memorable. Had I written a review, it would have been glowing.
On the other hand, Ms. Hopkins makes it clear that she despises “A Delicate Balance.” She uses the phrase “the script is horrid and left very little to work with.” Ms. Hopkins fails to note that this “horrid” script won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1967. The play she describes as “frankly awful” was judged by the Pulitzer committe to be the single best work of drama written during that 1966/67 Broadway season.
Now, she is pefectly within her rights to say that she found it to be “awful,” but it’s intellectually dishonest to omit the fact that the play is highly-acclaimed and has won prestigious awards.
Aside from that, she does offer up some criticisms while damning the cast with faint praise. Her criticism seems to indicate that the subtleties and mysteries of the script soared over her head. She didn’t “get it.” The characters don’t make a lot of eye contact because they’re afraid to. The unnamed terror, though open to a little interpretation, is the fear of a couple being alone together. When there’s only two of you, you have to be honest, and for these characters that prospect is terrifying.
Hopkins writes, “Weighty innuendos are made throughout the play that seem to hint at some deep underlying chasm aching just beneath the surface, but instead of being explored through dialogue, the issues are hinted at and then quickly glossed over in favor of yet another soliloquy on personal reflection of innate character flaws.”
To which I must offer up a “Duh.” The unspoken truths, obvious to most of the audience, are the whole point of the play. “A Delicate Balance” is not a play about telling secrets. It’s about keeping secrets, even when everyone knows them anyway, because the horror of facing the truth is too much to bear.
I’ve seen the play, in rehearsal and at opening night, and I think it’s a bit tragic that such a careless review made it into print. I understand that reviews are opinion pieces and that Ms. Hopkins obviously didn’t like the play. That’s her right. It would have been nice if she had worded her piece more subjectively instead of loudly proclaiming this show “horrid” and “awful.”
Community Theater needs community support to survive. The Alban is really providing a remarkable service to the Charleston area by tackling shows that are challenging, even difficult. It’s sad to think that a casual theater-goer might be discouraged from seeing what I think is a powerful piece of theatre because one reviewer has a grudge against the material. This type of review could make the difference between a production making or losing money.
One of many blows that the Theatre scene in Charleston has suffered recently is that, since the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail merged their Saturday operations, only one review of any local theatrical production sees print, if they’re lucky enough to get that. You only get one bite at the apple, and in this case, that bite found a razor blade.
Like I said, I’m close to the production. That does not mean that I would not be honest with my readers. “A Delicate Balance” is a challenging work. It is intense theater. If all you want are cheap laughs and goofy light-heartedness, this is not the show for you. If you want to see a well-directed intelligent drama, loaded with tons of realistic observational humor, peformed by a fearless cast, then please go see “A Delicate Balance.”
You have three more chances, May 3 and 4 at 8 PM and May 5 at 2 PM.