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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Waiting on David…

While we’re all on tenterhooks waiting for the Washington Post review of David In Shadow and Light we can enjoy this feature piece from yesterday’s Post.

As this might suggest, the narrative approach is epic — scratch that, cosmic — in scope. Hyman and Hoffman think only a wide canvas can capture what is most intriguing about David, namely his inconsistencies: the machismo and the artistry (David played the harp); the piety and the sin (after seducing Bathsheba, he engineered her husband’s death); the power and the vulnerability; the shadow and light.

“Essentially he’s a murderer, and yet he’s our great hero,” Hyman concurs.

“He embodies the best and worst of humanity,” says the Tel Aviv-based Hoffman, who performed in Theater J’s “God’s Donkey” and “Shlemiel the First.”

Read the full article here

Previews Postponed to Perfect Production

Theater J has cancelled its previews of David In Shadow in Light that were scheduled for this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The first preview will now be on Saturday, May 11 at 8:00 pm with an additional pay-what-you-can performance Sunday, May 12 at 8:00 pm. The show is the largest production Theater J has ever mounted and they decided to take a few extra days to get things right before putting it in front of a paying house. You can read Artistic Director Ari Roth’s blow-by-blow of the creative process or visit their website for more information.

In the meantime, keep this favorite exchange from one of my favorite movies in mind:

From Shakespeare In Love:

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Shabbat Surfing: Oranges and Ativan

Pardon the irregularity of posting this week. It has been a crazy technology week at the 16th Street J, but one that we’ll no doubt emerge from stronger for the experience. Now for the links…

In the last weeks the 16th Street J has sponsored both the Miriam’s Seder and the Stonewall Seder–both of which feature an orange on the seder plate. In a moving post, The Stirrup Queen–who writes mostly on infertility, unpacks the history of the orange on the plate, and relates it to the media attention surrounding Thomas Beatie, the transgendered pregnant man.

Welcome back to the airwaves, DC political maven and friend of the 16th Street J, Mark Plotkin who returned from a 3-month health sabbatical today on WTOP.

Donna Migliaccio, currently rehearsing Theater J’s world premiere musical David In Shadow and Light writes beautifully about the different experience of working at the J as compared to other theatres:

Little bitty kids are always around since there is a daycare center in the building; good smells come from the first floor cafe throughout the day; folks come in after business hours with their workout gear to utilize the very nice gym facilities; there’s an art gallery and a library and classrooms, all of which are always in use – in short, there is a sense of thriving community. Most of the time we theatricals work in a fairly rarefied, sterile atmosphere, cut off from the world swirling around us and often, the people for whom we will perform. Not at the J – the theatre there is as much a part of the everyday world as the kids in the daycare, the mah-jongg players in the lobby, the scholars in the library and the sweating runners on the treadmills.

Via WaPo’s Post Mortem blog I learned about the passing of Eddie Willner, a Shoah survivor who escaped a Nazi concentration camp in the closing days of the war and found an American artillery unit. Willner ended up moving to the States and serving in the US Army for 21 years and retired with the rank of Major. May his memory be as a blessing.

Finally, you know a Jewish holiday must be close if the internet is beginning to buzz with video send-ups of that favorite stereotype…the Jewish mother. Please direct any offended sensibilities here.

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