The Thrill of Opening (and the critic who failed)

Let us only speak truth. With the vantage of perspective. Sunday’s opening was a thrilling culmination, a rapturous reception from audience who spoke of our “reaching a new high-point;” “nothing short of amazing;” “enormous talent and a phenomenal achievement!” Typical opening night self-congratulations? No. This was something extraordinary. It is a beautifully delivered performance of a score imbued with real gift and real genius. We left the theater late Sunday night with a feeling of deep accomplishment. With a united company that had been challenged mightily by the high degree of difficulty and had emerged in fine fettle, with a show that had been fired by rigorous refinements over some high pressured days and weeks. We were a production fulfilled on that night.

Monday for me was jury duty. A Grand Jury summons, I contemplated jury service of 8 weeks duration. I don’t think so! when I produced a travel itinerary for Israel and Spain later in June, they let me go to petite jury. And there I sat, a possible juror on an armed robbery and assault case, until i was let go of that at the very last possible moment. A relief. And an interesting day with the great range of humanity that make up our city, sitting in a courtroom with a benevolent and wise judge. I was happy to be part of this particular system. Justice at work. Still exhausted from the night before, I reflected that all artistic directors should be sent for a full day of jury duty the morning after a rousing opening night. Breeds perspective. And all day, Daniel Hoffman’s brilliant score was running through my brain. I love that music. And our performance of it.

And now this morning. The rainy paper arrives. We open The Post. And Peter Marks has done it again. A critic who fails new work. Quite simply. The wonderful playwright Yehuda Hyman writes me from the lobby of the hotel where he’s checking out in an hour. “Wow. This is the worst. I am really sorry, Ari. It’s so bad it’s almost good, except it’s not good.”

Here’s what I write to Yehuda:

“He’s failed a great score and great book in the most fundamental of ways. He quite simply was the wrong man for the job from very the beginning of this assignment. The impact, alas, will be real. In the end, Peter is so not the person we make theater for; he’s the wrong arbiter determining what should be seen and what will last. Fortunately, our cast believes in this score and this story and they will deliver a dedicated performance throughout. So all our dreams won’t come true on this production? The show was realized. The show came true. Its spirit and its intent are being shared for all to partake. So it wasn’t crowned Homecoming King this go around. So what? We survived high school. We’ll survive this too.

We live in a rough world. And this play is aware of that world, even as it has so much beauty in it. And reverence. And irreverence too. Peter’s not the most ungenerous scrouge we’ve got going in this city. There’s plenty of company. So we’re making art in hostile surroundings. We have no choice, but to be strong.”

8 thoughts on “The Thrill of Opening (and the critic who failed)

  1. My husband and I and two friends saw, DAVID
    in SHADOW and LIGHT, on Sunday afternoon.
    All four of us were on a “high” because we had
    just experienced a theatrical wonder.In every
    respect, this was theater at its best.
    Imagine our disbelief when we read Peter Mark’s
    words. He never writes a review that is balanced,
    but too often, a criticism that reflects a malcontent who may have a personal vendetta
    against Theater J. Mr. Marks should think of ART when he writes and should concentrate more on the Psalm than on the sling.
    Deborah Bottinick

  2. We loved the play and spent the evening talking about it. I was so disturbed by Peter Marks’ review that I wrote my first letter to the paper.
    The four of us who saw the play thought that the actors were wonderful, the set and techical work extrordinary and we could not find fault with anything. Peter Marks is a mean spirited person and I almost never agree with him but this time he is way off the mark. We will do our best to tell people to see it. Please pass this on the Yehuda and the cast and crew.

  3. All I could say as i was reading the review aloud this morning was that this man did not see the same play that i saw. What was he thinking about or not thinking? Could he not see the extraordinary production that brought an audience to its feet out of admiration for terrific performances/score/staging? I do hope someone writes to the Post. A review can be critical without being offensive and i did think his was!

  4. Thank you to all. Your words give me great strength today. I guess it’s all a gamble but knowing that the play was understood and appreciated by all of you makes it all worthwhile

    . Love, Yehuda

  5. I spoke my appreciation opening night to you, Ari, and to Yehuda, Daniel and others. Some truth was spoken about this in the theater office last night (before other sensibilities alas, had dismally weighed in.) Catherine (working) did not get to see the Opening Night performance – we had both last experienced the show a week before at Sunday preview. But she did experience the audience response in the lobby and intermission and after — and had never seen anything like the exhiliaration, donors, audience, the full buzz.

    So comparing notes from that preview, I reported yes, having seen the opening, the exhiliration stemmed for what happend on stage. The heart was there the previous Sunday, but many obstacles between this new, evolving work and the audience remained. It was extraordinary what the creative team unlocked in the final week. (O theater people, you are beloved for such efforts.) I had responded to you post-first three previews, with my sense of what did and didn’t work , and yeh, all of my quibbles ain’t resolved – but what was done is a marvel and the production soars and lifts and it deserves an audience.

    Ari, your passion to create and nuture has never been more evident and I spoke to you of your broad shoulders which carried this team through this (not to speak of the heart and soul with which they carried you.) As Catherine said, this is what new play development is about (although I’ve heard some moanings about its demands), the glory of this theater and its mission. I’ve never been more proud to be associated with you and a part of Theater J.

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  7. You all need to stop kvetching here and wonder why three critics so far -Peter Marks, Bob Anthony and now Jayne Blanchard stated in their reviews that this show was a mess. Instead of blaming them, let’s look at the show.

    First it’s offensive-bloody foreskins, homo-erotic scenes, Goliath spewing lines like “I’ll make you into a Hebrew Stew” and “May your Jewish seed dry up in you Jewish balls.” Is this what you want your kids and grandchildren to see? And those costumes? Lots of black leather with chains. And all that screaming of actors. I mean, let’s get real – and the score is hardly hummable. I brought my grandchildren -6, 8. and 10 to see a show that we thought was going to tell the story of the King David we all loved and learned about when we were kids- a warrior, a wise king, etc. There was no warning to parents about the profanity, the violence and the sexual
    content, so how was I to know that I would have had to take my grandchildren home at intermission when one of them was so scared of Goliath’s threats to make the Hebrew Stew.

    Stop feeling sorry for yourselves and blaming everyone else. If it was good, the critics would have written something nice, like they did for The Price. And when Peter Marks writes something good about a Theater J show you advertise it everywhere, but when he doesn’t like it, you call him “scourge.”

    To go from the brilliant The Price to this muddle was a big letdown. Do quality my friends and you’ll fill up the house. My hats off to the hard working cast who worked their hearts out.I feel sorry for them.

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