Passing Marks–Getting Beyond Critics in a One-Daily Town

Part of the deal of presenting arts in a city with only one widely-read daily newspaper is that your fortunes become inextricably tied to your coverage in that paper. This cuts both ways. When the coverage is good we prosper, praise the generous and wise coverage bestowed upon us and send links to the positive press in mass emails. When the coverage is not so good, which is to say either critically negative or non-existent, we suffer. We curse the folly of investing so much authority in one publication. We snidely remind ourselves that newspapers are a dying medium anyway with steeply declining circulations, ad revenues and prospects. But we don’t argue the call. Not publicly anyway. To do so is an implicit violation of the deal. Peeing in the well from which you’ll eventually need a drink.

The situation meets its absurd (il)logical end in the theater, where the voice of one critic in particular, hugely impacts the success of a show. Following the jubilation of the great feature article on Sunday, came today’s harsh reality and a heavily negative review from Peter Marks for David in Shadow and Light. He calls it “a ponderous mishmash.” He derides the music as “meandering” and “atonal,” the lyrics as “doggerel” and the production in general as “turgid.” It was a pretty harsh review, as these things go–especially harsh when you consider this was a new work with (I think) a lot of merit. And so, with all due respect to Mr. Marks, we disagree.

The music Marks found meandering and atonal, I actually find quite melodic and complex. Daniel Hoffman’s music draws on middle eastern rhythms that are built differently than the chord, chorus and tonal structure of your average, western musical. To call it “atonal” brings to mind Schoenberg’s critique of the term that, “it is on a par with calling flying ‘the art of not falling,’ or swimming ‘the art of not drowning.'” Which is to say that the review judges the music for what it is not without ever investing a serious consideration of what it is. The critic has every right to consider and reject, but where was the consideration? Continue reading

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