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BACK TO BACK CHEKHOV
26 September 2015
I started "critic-ing" in 2000. For many years, I referred to myself as a "faux critic" because I really didn't feel comfortable in what I was doing, but whatever I was doing seemed to work. Over time found my own voice and people tell me they enjoy reading my reviews, though I am aware that my kind of reviews would not work in a big city paper.
I called myself a faux critic because I was very aware of my lack of credentials. I never finished college; I didn't read a lot of the "high fallutin'" plays that I might be reviewing. I never learned how to appreciate Shakespeare, etc. I never took a writing or journalism class. Never learned how to intelligently discuss a written work.
I could do musicals in my sleep. The best review I ever wrote, or the one I felt most comfortable writing, was of Pirates of Penzance, a show I know backwards and forwards. It's the only show I ever reviewed in 15+ years where I actually knew more about it than my colleague, who intimidates me with his body of knowledge, did.
I never read Chekhov and so was uncomfortable when I reviewed my first Chekhov play a year ago. It seems that most reviews I read to prepare for seeing it (thank God for the Internet) were written by people who knew Chekhov as intimately as I know Gilbert & Sullivan. They compared this translation to that translation and talked about the characters as if everyone already knew who they were.
I managed to produce a serviceable review of that show (3 Sisters) but still don't feel comfortable with it.
Now that I'm also reviewing for Sacramento News and Review, a weekly free paper, there are four of us critics and we put up a list of the shows that need reviewing for the coming week and then find out who is available to review what, who wants to review what, and who will review what because nobody else is available.
There was a Chekhov play opening here in Davis (Uncle Vanya) which would not get a News and Review review because it only plays the one weekend, so there would only be a review on Sunday, its final performance, in the Enterprise. SNR publishes once a week, on Thursday, so a review of it there would be useless because the show would already be over.
A Sacramento theater company was also opening 3 Sisters this weekend and my colleague, the one who intimidates me, said that he would really like the weekend off, but then again, this might be his only chance to see "back to back Chekhov" (he lives in Davis and would be seeing that show only for pleasure, since I would be reviewing it).
I'm not sure how it happened that I ended up with the back to back Chekhov reviews after all.
Uncle Vanya was first and it was OK, but I had problems with it, primarily that I had a very difficult time hearing some of the actors. There were whole swatches of dialog that I missed, so I really wasn't sure what the play was about after it ended. It also didn't seem to have a lot of energy, but since it is about a bunch of bored Russians lolling about in the heat complaining about being bored, the lack of energy could have been deliberate.
(The one thing that production did do for me, though, was to convince me that I must get hearing aids after we return from our cruise in November. I am missing entirely too much dialog on stage lately and I have to check with Walt to find out if he had trouble hearing or not to know if it's just my hearing or if the actors are really not speaking clearly)
The actors seemed to be doing a good job and I managed to get a fairly good review written, though, like the previous 3 Sisters, I still don't feel like I did the show justice.
The next night we saw 3 Sisters again, by a different theater company, a year after the first time I saw that play. I was blown away and suddenly understood why everyone enjoys Chekhov so much. This was night and day a different play from what I had seen the year before. This had life. Energy. Understandable dialog. Wonderful performances. It will be a pleasure to write this review because this time around, I feel I'm on firmer footing and don't have to figure out how to review a show I didn't understand because I missed too much of the dialog. I'm even relieved that I will be writing the longer review for SNR this week instead of the shorter one, as originally planned, because it will give me a greater opportunity to review the performers.
I still feel like a faux reviewer, but more confident than
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