Ethics Quiz: Critic Ethics

How I love critics...

How I love critics…

This is a delicate one for me; the names have been omitted and details disguised to protect…well, for a lot of reasons.

Last week I posted about the mixed-gender version of “I Do! I Do!” I directed for The American Century Theater, which I co-founded and where I am the artistic director. The show met all my objectives and expectations, even surpassed them, and until today, all of the reviews have been raves.

Today, though, a non-rave came out on a local theater website. It is the kind of review I detest, where the standard of the critic is “why didn’t you do it this way? That’s what I would have done.” The answer to that is, bluntly, “Direct your own damn show, then.” Snap judgments from one-time viewers, even extremely sophisticated ones, about what they would do if they were the author, actor, director, or designer of a stage production—when if truth they never have been or could be—are inherently unfair, incompetent and also obnoxious. After considering and experimenting and testing various artistic approaches to any problem over months of preparation, meetings and  intense rehearsal with a large production and artistic team, any production deserves the respect of being assumed to have considered and rejected for cause other solutions, which for various reasons didn’t work.

This is not, of course, a professional reviewer, though a reader could only know that from the quality of the review. Among other tells, the critic misidentifies which performers sing what, and the whole concept of non-realistic sets seems to be alien to him: yes, dear, we could have afforded a four-poster bed; the director felt the show would be better without one, and in fact, it is. Okay, the reviewer is a boob: that’s fine; most theater reviewers are.  I would not make an issue about one sloppy and badly reasoned amateur review, because if I did, I’d be in a padded room.

However, after the review was published, I learned that our company had a prior experience with this reviewer: he had been on the crew of a show last year, and we had to fire him. In 17 years and over 80 productions, he is the only person to be fired from that particular job.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz with a theatrical bent:

Does a critic who has a past relationship with a theater company whose production he or she is reviewing have an ethical obligation to disclose it as part of the published review? Continue reading

An Inclusive “I Do! I Do!” for A Post-DOMA U.S.


I wasn’t going to mention my current theater (at Arlington, Virginia’s American Century Theater) project here, until I dropped Ethics Alarms’ conservative warrior Steven Mark Pilling a note on Facebook that I had just posted on the topic he is most passionate about, preventing the abuse of child actors in Hollywood. Steven is not, to say the least, a fan of gay marriage (this might be the topic he is next most passionate about) , and I realized that my Facebook thumbnail, showing two same-sex couples in an intimate moment from my show, might put him off.

The show I just finished directing ( with the assistance of Quinn Anderson and my musical director Tom Fuller)  the old Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones chestnut, “I Do! I Do!”, ( Remember “My Cup Runneth Over, Ed Ames fans? Hello? ) the tw0-actor Broadway musical based on the 1950 play “The Fourposter.” Back in 1966, when Robert Preston and Mary Martin starred in the musical, it was considered an affectionate and  perceptive look at the institution of marriage, and the show has attracted nostalgic, usually elderly married couples to regional and dinner theaters ever since. Productions of  “I Do! I Do!” are becoming rarer, however, because the societal developments have rendered the tale of the epic marriage of Agnes and Michael Snow increasingly alien to the current American scene. In particular, what was once a musical intended to speak to all married couples and candidates for future nuptials now appears to exclude the very group that comprises musical theater’s hardiest supporters: gays.

In marked abandonment of my theater’s usual principles (we don’t update shows, believing that it is more interesting and fair to the authors to let audiences reflect on what has changed since an original production, and what has not), I decided that for the benefit of audiences, the culture and the show itself, it was time to re-conceive “I Do! I Do!” so it would gain renewed relevance and vitality in a post DOMA age. My approach, courageously and generously approved by the authors, was to show the marriage of the show’s couple through a constantly rotating prism that alternately revealed them as a same-sex female couple, a same-sex male couple, and the traditional heterosexual couple of the 1966 version. This required four very versatile and gutsy actors who could pull off the illusion of showing one marriage three different ways without giving the audience whiplash or confusing them hopelessly. In Steve Lebens, Esther Covington, Chad Fournwalt and Mary Beth Luckenbaugh, I found the dream cast. Continue reading