Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing to disagree

I’ve often bitten the bait tossed out by book reviewers. I’ve read the ones they praised and often been very disappointed. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo come immediately to mind.  Now I’ve become wary of theatre reviewers.  Only this time, I’ve seen previews of plays before they officially opened and I was, therefore, able to form an opinion without being swayed by New York critics and those of other newspapers.  I’ve come instead to critiquing their reviews.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert  (notice the missing comma) opened in New York recently at the huge Palace Theatre.  From the  venue alone you know it’s going to be presented as a crowd -pleaser, a draw for tourists.  Based on the movie about three Australian men who perform as drag queens, the play is full of disco music, outlandish costumes, unbelievable sets and moments of hilarity, sensitivity and tenderness, too.  I really enjoyed it because I accepted it for what it is.  It’s not Stephen Sondheim or Rodgers and Hammerstein.    The theatre critic for the New Yorker called it “demented and brain dead.”  No equivocating there!

Then I went to see the revival of That Championship Season,  the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Jason Miller.  The all-star cast is probably one of the reasons the limited run is practically sold out:  Brian Cox, Chris Noth, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric (the playwright’s son) and Jim Gaffigan.  Because it is set in 1972 at the 20th reunion of a basketball team and their coach, the plot involves the contemporary issues of that time.  So if it is racist and anti-Semitic, the audience may gasp and be shocked but it accepts it as part of that era.  When one of the coach’s heroes is Sen. Joseph McCarthy, we know we’re in a very different time. So, when a critic says it is dated, I say, of course it is.  So are all the other revivals that come to Broadway each year.

When I was younger, I think I was less discriminating, tending to accept more readily the views of “experts.”  Now, I find it very invigorating to dissect the reasons why I do or do not enjoy certain books and plays.  It also makes great conversation to hear the views of friends who may or may not agree.


  1. I totally agree! This is the reason I prefer to read classics. I figure if something has been in print for more than fifty years, it should be worth my time. I'll only read a current novel if I get several good reviews from trusted friends. By the way, I found your blog beacause I picked up Madame Bovary at the Whitney Book Corner, the used book store that benefits the local library in Schenectady. I found the name Barbara Backus in the front of my new book. I couldn't help but google the previous owner. If it was yours, thanks for passing it on. I've been meaning to read Madame Bovary since college, I'm 35 now so it's time to get to it.
    By the way, great blog!
    Thanks, Lisa

  2. Thank you, Lisa. Yes, I often donate books to the Whitney Book Corner via a friend who works there part-time and who lives in Scotia.

  3. Oh, this is so great! I need to figure out a way to use this great story - maybe on the Whitney Book site.