Saturday, October 06, 2007

So What's the Pointy?

That is, why write reviews at all, you know? A lot of shows that I've seen lately, and artists that I've read, seem to support raw experience over processed analysis, and I'm in agreement. Kate Fodor (of 100 Saints You Should Know) and Elizabeth LeCompte (director of the Wooster Group, as profiled by Jane Kramer in the 10/8 New Yorker) both seek to play with character and explore possibilities rather than to stodgily or solidly define -- very different, I think, than the strict definitions of Beckett, or the precise language of Albee. Fodor's program notes point out that she doesn't have (or want) the answers that her character seek, nor even know their complete histories. And LeCompte looks to "get lost in it" until she knows what she wants.

Given this, why bother trying to define art within narrow boundaries? Why try to turn the beach of the mind into a sandbox?

That said, why not search for the middle ground? I see criticism as a non-affiliated tour agency, one that visits as many foreign vistas as possible, compiling them in such a way that they can simply lay out an audience's options as plainly as possible. It's not really my job to deny anyone access to a particular play, so much as it is to educate people to the possibilities: yes, you can go Iphigenia 2.0, but perhaps you'd be happier checking out Philoketes? Or if you hate the sound of The Misanthrope, maybe you'd be more comfortable seeing something more traditional, like The Children of Vonderly.

I don't understand criticism that seeks to define something simply as good or bad, especially when it is less than descriptive, or dismissive of positive points. Maybe that lopsided black and white works for the government's depiction of axes and evils, but art is far from being that easily summarized. I'm still looking to find the aesthetic that works for my own writing, and I'm far from perfect as a theatergoer and critic, but I'm getting better because I'm staying open to the possibility inherent in every show, no matter how sweaty the space, dim the lights, or eccentric the writing. Magic is happening, and I don't want to be caught sleeping when I see it.

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