Mike and I saw the American Players’ Theater production of the Critic. A bad play about bad plays, it had only one actor who was much of a standout (Mr. Fretful Plagiarist) but was otherwise a good enough diversion on a muggy, mosquito-wet night. The play, while consciously awful, had some hilarious bits of truth for anyone who writes or who critiques literature of any kind. As I do both, I think I caught some in jokes hanging around for centuries now.
What I really found interesting were the people attending the play. While vaunted as a tourist draw, it became clear from listening in that most of the audience consisted of season ticket holders… i.e. locals. These were the people tailgating in the parking lot at the base of the hill with wine and cheese (because you know, hot dogs just don’t say “theater.”) It was weirdly hilarious to me, listening to the woman next to me “The last time I went it wasn’t this crowded!” she sniffed, as I took my assigned seat – that she’s been leaning onto when I approached. The women in the row behind me told me about watching the play toward the end of the season when the frost set in.
And when we walked down the hill, in the wonder of a night worthy of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, people began to critique the play. “It wasn’t as good as…” what followed wasn’t as much evaluation as it was just something to say. It’s theater. It’s art. It made people so self-conscious and pretentious it was almost sad. I wanted to whisper, “Just pretend it’s like a movie and say what you really think.”
I sensed strain, a need to prove that they understood. The very need to prove understanding demonstrated understanding’s absence.
But maybe that’s because I grew up with theater performances as a backdrop in my life. I know teachers and actors are real people, flawed, egotists, awesome and awful. Just say what you thought – the very point of the Critic is that it is just … awful.
I suppose it’s different when the actors might belly up next to you at the bar on a Tuesday night.