September 26, 2009


I wrote my first-ever Theatre Louisville show review last night (Pandora's Rocky Horror Show - go see it, it's fun!), but I was more than a little uncomfortable wearing a reviewer's hat.

That's because I'm fundamentally opposed to the entire idea of theatre reviews. I realize that this very website which enlists me as a columnist is, in fact, based heavily on reviews, but honestly, I could do without them. To be perfectly frank, I don't really care what some other person thought about some play, and I don't really see why anyone else should care what I thought about a play either.

It's a good example of what I like to call "Unsolvable Problems" of spacetime: the eternal conflict of integrity vs. negativity. If a reviewer thinks a show sucks, it would be that writer's duty to say so. After all, no one wants a yes-man or an uncritical pollyanna, right? But if 1,000 people see a show and loved it, adored it, worshipped it, is it really fair that the only tangible lasting legacy the show leaves behind is one negative review by one person who didn't like it?

Try this experiment: make a list of the ten movies and the ten albums you love the most. Put a little effort into the list, and try to come up with a list of those films and CDs that define, for you, the pinnacle of mankind's creativity in those fields to date. Then do Google searches and find other people's reviews of such. In virtually every case, you will find people who utterly trash, ridicule and denigrate all those things you hold dear. The things they say will often make it seem like they didn't even see or hear the same thing that you did at all, and that they utterly missed the entire point. It's probably a given that most of the people giving their opinions will be ill-informed - the internet is now ubiquitous enough that it's increasingly dominated by the opinions of the uneducated, which are drowning out reasonable voices (Look at the comments left on most YouTube videos if you doubt). But you'll also find college professors, well-respected career critics, and glib professional wordsmiths who seem very knowledgeable, and yet they may also hate the things you love. It may be hackneyed, but the old cliché "Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one" really does sum up the futility of it all.

So what is the answer? There isn't one. That's why it's called an Unsolvable Problem.

The solution I tend to slouch toward is to avoid negativity (and that's not easy for me, because I have great disdain for an awful lot of things I'm surrounded by in modern society) regarding purely subjective matters like plays, books, movies, and music, and reserve my wrath for things that truly matter. Not because I don't think lots of stuff sucks, but because it serves us all better in the long run to be a superconductor or a capacitor than a resistor or a closed switch.

As I've already written about here previously, I believe Goethe's principles of criticism are unarguably accurate in their laser-beam reductionism. Unfortunately, the implications of them render the whole concept of theatre reviews irrelevant. It wouldn't break my heart if Theatre Louisville jettisoned the whole "peer review" thing entirely, and focused on more useful data instead. (Our imperious editrix Sherry R. Deatrick has been making great strides in making the site more data-oriented than opinion-oriented, and for that I applaud her.)



Contact the author at jshpaint@gmail.com.


Jeffrey Scott Holland is the Artistic Director for Catclaw Theatre Company, author of Weird Kentucky on Sterling Press, and painter whose works have been exhibited worldwide. Visit him on the web at jshla.com .