Got a chance to see Rebecca Gilman’s new play. It’s been a little controversial amongst the SF theater hipsters because of the conflicting reviews. Robert Hurwitt says it “explores a contemporary Chekhovian vein, impressively balanced between biting wit and emotional depth.” Chloe Veltman calls it “a bland little drama” and says it’s “uninspiring.”

If I were a good blogger, I’d gin up the controversy by coming down on one side or the other. But alas, my Libran tendencies have won out: I’m right in the middle. On the one hand, I really dug the excellent acting, the perfect set, the sparkling dialogue. The first hour or so felt like being at a party with some interesting folks, who just happened to be perfectly divided into pro, con and undecided, so that the discussion was never one-sided. On the other hand, it felt about twenty minutes too long, which is rough for a 75 minute play.

Chloe blames conservative theaters’ “lack of nerve” (and does the one thing that I hate: saying definitively “theater should be” something, as if only one kind of theater deserves to exist — think how odd it would be to say “television should be a commentary on contemporary life set in space; nothing but Battlestar Galactica’s from now on”). But I personally blame the lack of outlets for one-act plays.

Think how many shows you’ve seen that would benefit by being 50 to 60 minutes long. Instead, they get stretched out to 70 and 80 minutes so that they have a chance to be produced. Nowadays, you’d never see a ZOO STORY paired with KRAPP’S LAST TAPE. Bring back the One Act! Okay.


2 Replies to “THE CROWD YOU’RE IN WITH at Magic Theatre”

  1. Hello Tim,

    Thanks for your incisive post about Gilman’s play. I’m grateful to you for pointing out your issue with critics saying what theatre “should” or “shouldn’t” be. I never realized how irritating and pompous this kind of thing might sound to a reader.

    I just re-read my review of the show. While I do take your point, I think that the critic is, in a way, kind of entitled to make this kind of comment. After all, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly if we didn’t have strong feelings about what theatre should and shouldn’t be like.

    I dunno. I love all kinds of theatrical experiences. But I suppose the bottom line is that the theatrical experience has to show me the world magnified somehow. In the best cases, I have to be picked up by the heels and turned upside down. At the very least, I want my heart and head engaged. This is what I’m getting at with my comment about “larger than life.” Perhaps I should have expressed it more eloquently.

    Anyway, thanks for being my gadfly.

  2. Hi Chloe,

    I think my reaction was mainly to the word “should.”

    I’m the type of person who responds to “Have you considered killing off the main character at the end of your play?” with “Oh my God yes! That’s brilliant! I’m doing it!” — and yet responds to “You should kill off the main character at the end of your play” with “Yeah, well, go write your own play.”

    Anyway, I do think I kinda forgot you’re a critic. I’m usually responding to other playwrights, and my “anti-should-ism” gets aroused when they say theaters should produce whatever they write because it’s inherently better than whatever theaters are producing.

    I usually chime in to say there’s room for both movement-based plays about mental illness and text-based plays about middle-class white people in the world, and no need to claim one or the other is what “real theater should be.”

    But you’re a critic. And the reason I once deemed you “best critic” in this very blog — and then very slyly wrote “one of the best critics” so as not to arouse the ire of all the many other critics who surely read this blog — is because you step back from the play you’re reviewing and put it into a greater context about theater in general and whether a particular piece engages as a piece of art in that greater context.

    I probably should have stopped for a second and remembered I was talking about criticism and not a playwright’s whiny blog post.

    But hey, I’m glad it gave us a chance to connect.


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