Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lord Arthur Savile's Critics

We've completed our second full week of performances, and the major reviews are in for Lord Arthur Savile's Crime. They can only be classified as raves, with all three critics seemingly pleased that the Washington Stage Guild is back on the boards.

Actually, the Stage Guild returned to full production last fall, when they presented an evening of one-acts at Catholic University in conjunction with the International Shaw Conference (I wrote about those hilarious Shavian bits here). But I suppose our production is getting more buzz as it's a return to downtown DC for the Guild, and is being presented in a charming theatre which may become a long-term home.

Whatever. There are some stage actors out there who do not read reviews of their shows (or claim they don't), and that's all well and good, but I am not one of those. I read the reviews, always with an eye to the most important aspect: will they help put butts in seats? As for the actual critical analysis of the work, well, I confess to being more interested in what my peers think than the critics. But that does not stop me from reading every word, and caring what they say.
I remember the undeniable thrill I felt the very first time I saw my name in a printed review. It was a biggie, the L.A.Times, who said I had "real panache," playing a minor role in Jon Voight's Hamlet (left). A few years later, the same paper called me a "showstopper," for a fun original musical for kids (there's a blurry screen grab below); I was sure my career was made. I guess I'm glad critics don't actually have that kind of power, otherwise I may have done myself in, when I received this notice a few years later, from one of the trades in Los Angeles:

"R. Scott Williams acts a lot. Or something."

See how we remember such things? That critic was actually correct: I was acting a lot or something. The production, a dismal translation of Machiavelli's Mandragola (The Mandrake) deserved every nasty dart the critic threw.

There have been so many dozens of reviews since then, that it's hard to keep track, though not from lack of my trying. Which brings me back to our current notices for Lord Arthur.... The first review was posted by DC's leading online theatre site, DC Theatre Scene. The couple who runs the site are tremendous boosters of local theatre, and have been personally supportive of my work. Neither of them reviewed our show: they sent another critic, who absolutely raved about six-sevenths of our cast. Can you guess which actor she failed to mention?

Hey, I'd rather be ignored than slammed, so I'm pleased she did not mention me in the review (go here to read it), as I assume she disliked me and declined to mention it, or was so bored by my performance she forgot I was in the thing. No matter, it was a rave for the show, which is the important thing.

Our second review is undeniably considered the city's "money review." The Washington Post's leading critic, Peter Marx, attended the show last week, and responded with another rave. This review has significance for several reasons. Marx has a habit of attending the larger theatres in the area, leaving the smaller, Mom-and-Pop groups to the stringers, so it was unusual to find him in our audience. More importantly, the Post is the review which is most likely to convince audience members to attend, so we are pleased as palmists that he approved of the show. Go here to read the full piece, but it's not necessary, as I will tell you now that I was described as a "sure-footed foil."

Our third review was posted just today, and will hit the newsstands tomorrow. The Citypaper is the free weekly which likes to think of itself as the "alternative" paper (alternative to what remains open for debate). Their critics have large vocabularies and are quick to show them off, and I've been treated pretty well by them in other offerings. Their senior theatre critic, Bob Mondello, attended a very quiet performance last week, and filed a review which can also be considered a rave. He complimented six-sevenths of the cast, then compared me to an "ante-bellum plantation owner." (That suit I'm wearing in Act Two does make me look like Colonel Sanders.)

He saved his most lavish praise for our director and playwright Bill Largess, giving him well-deserved kudos for translating Oscar Wilde's novella to the stage in a stylish manner. I'm thrilled that the Citypaper review can be counted a win, even as the critic in essence wished Bill had been playing my role.

Well, he isn't, and I'm having a ball, when I'm not coughing up disgusting mucus. I snagged a righteous cold two weeks ago, and have been suffering the effects since; my poor castmates have been great sports about my annoying hack backstage.

I have hopes the cough will have diminished when we return to the stage tomorrow night. But our spirits will not, as we've been notified that we are extending our run a week. Such news reflects positive reinforcement from the producers, and I have no doubt we will have a swell time as we head into our third week of shows.