“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.” –Bette Davis
This week, I was VERY controversial.
I met with friends for dinner early in the week. When I arrived, J. said “I don’t know, should we be having dinner with such a controversial person?” and I was all, “Whaaa?” and they all giggled and then got serious faces because they assumed I’d heard and now they were tasked with letting me know what was up.
Heard what, you may ask? What exactly WAS up?
Well! Apparently, I angered some people with a review I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Angered them enough that I got two – count ‘em, two – letters to the editor written about me, and a comment on the review itself, and a private message on Facebook.
Whoo! Look at me go! Angering people all OVER the region!
A little background, I suppose, is in order.
I went to the show. It starred some of the area’s best actors. The kind of actors that, when you say their names around here, people take notice. The set was gorgeous. The costumes were perfect. The acting was quite good; the direction couldn’t be faulted.
That having been said, it was the second-worst show I’ve seen all year. And I’ve seen a LOT of shows.
It was the show itself that was the problem. It was extremely dated; it had very little to do with anything contemporary, so it was very hard to relate to. It was abnormally long; almost three hours, including intermission. It was extremely talky; a good hour could have been cut from that script and not sacrificed a single bit of the action. Sorry – “action.” That needs ironic air-quotes. Nothing that could be described as action happened in this show. Like, at all. It was painful. I wanted to leave at intermission but I was getting paid to review it so that wasn’t an option.
I’m not saying I need, like, a shoot-out scene or a huge sex scene or anything. (Well, not EVERY time.) But something needs to HAPPEN, dammit. And nothing happened in this play. There were some scenes that I think were supposed to be shocking, but they were just yawn-inducing. Maybe they were shocking in the 30s when this was written, I don’t know. The characters were written so flimsily and ridiculously that only a couple of them were at all believable.
It was a TERRIBLE show. It wasn’t terribly acted, directed, set designed, or costumed (or even lit or sound designed); it was just a poorly-chosen show, and poorly-written, and it was so hard to watch.
Now, I realize this is just my opinion…and you know what they say about opinions, right? Yep. Just like…elbows. Yeah, that’s it. Elbows. Everyone has one. (Or two, really, if you’re going with the elbow thing.) Thing is, I get paid for my opinion.
I don’t like to be mean. I really think there’s something to be celebrated in every piece of work, no matter how much I dislike it. I wrote a review saying how much I liked and admired the actors, set, and costumes; I even gave the director kudos (although I did say he could have cut some of the script, for our sake.) I did, however, excoriate the script. Listen, I’ve read a lot of plays. I have a decent handle on what’s out there; I have a somewhat informed opinion. That’s why the paper hired me, and not some yahoo who’s never been to the theater before.
I ended the review with the following, which I think I can share without being fired for sharing something that you’re all supposed to pay for:
“It’s a shame that, with such powerful actors on stage, their talent is being wasted in such a lackluster play. With so many shows in the area currently in production, audiences are — and I say this with regret, as these actors alone are worth the ticket price — advised to give this one a pass.”
I’ve ended a number of reviews with a similar sentiment (as have other area reviewers) – either that I recommend the show, or I don’t. It’s usually clear, from my review, whether or not I actually SAY I recommend it or not, whether or not I do. (I think that’s the point of a review, isn’t it?)
Apparently, it’s this last paragraph that upset people.
The comment on the review said they “felt (my) review was unfair-especially your final comment” because it “probably kept many people from attending.”
The first letter to the editor said the author took “exception to one of (my) comments” because “(e)veryone has the right to their own opinion; however, to come out and tell people not to see a show is going too far. People should be able to read a review if they need to, and decide for themselves…a comment (like this is) hurtful and detrimental to the company.”
The other letter to the editor said (in short; it was a VERY long letter) “Amy…advises potential patrons to give it a pass. I disagree with that.” (She then went on and on about how flawed the script was, but that the show was so relatable, and then broke down my review point by point to say why she was right in her opinion and I was wrong.)
Oh, and I also got a private message from an aquaintance on Facebook, asking me to explain myself – why did I advise people to not attend a show he’d PERSONALLY enjoyed very much?
OK. Here’s the thing.
First: I didn’t write that review to hurt anyone. I actually went out of my way to NOT hurt anyone. The only one at fault was whoever chose the show, and a lot of factors go into choosing a show. I’m not going to pick those apart; I wasn’t part of that selection process.
I stand by that last paragraph. I couldn’t recommend the show. (And I’m not naming names, but I spoke to a number of theater friends who saw the show over the couple weeks it was playing. Not a single one recommended it, either. And I got thanks – thanks for writing a review of a terrible show in such a way that it highlighted the positive, and didn’t hurt anyone. I take their praise over these letters any day. They matter to me. A great deal. These letters? Meh.)
When you read a review – a movie review, a theater review, a book review – do you read it thinking it’s an encyclopedia entry? Or do you (as you should) read it thinking it’s the author’s opinion, and when you see/read what’s being reviewed, your opinion might differ? As it’s an opinion? And what worked for one person might not work for another?
As I said, I’ve said “I do recommend this show” or “I don’t recommend this show” before. As have other reviewers. (And I don’t want to play the sexism card, here, but I’ve seen a lot more Letters to the Editor/mean comments on the reviews written by the female reviewers in the area than on the reviews of the male reviewers – and there are two, maybe three, female reviewers in the WHOLE AREA and, oh, I don’t know, maybe a dozen or more male reviewers – I just have to think that maybe men having opinions, that’s ok, but women? GAH WHAT DO STUPID CHICKS KNOW WITH THEIR STUPID CHICK BRAINS.) I don’t see anyone complaining when I DO recommend a show. So I’m allowed to recommend a show – because that INCREASES their box office – but I can’t NOT recommend a show, because that would DECREASE their box office. Because people are JUST THAT STUPID. They will read my review and walk, all zombie-like, to the theater…or they will STAY FAR AWAY.
Listen. I worked at a local theater for 8 years. We weathered both good and bad reviews. Did they have an effect our box office? Sometimes, yes. An excellent review got more people in; a bad review did tend to keep some people away. But that’s just the way the game is played. Sometimes the reviewer has an axe to grind; sometimes the reviewer only likes comedies or dramas; sometimes the reviewer is just extremely negative all the time; sometimes you luck out, and the reviewer loves the show, and you read it and you just grin. It’s just a review, in the grand scheme of things, really. It’s a quick flame of either helpful or hurtful.
But these letters and comments and private messages…
Listen, people. It was my opinion. As I say, I stand by this opinion. If I had it to do all over again? I’d write it exactly the same. (And, just so you know, my editor read that review, and ran it exactly as I wrote it. She had no problem with it, either.) Amy the reviewer couldn’t recommend that show; Amy the PERSON couldn’t recommend that show. If I’d just seen it for fun, I wouldn’t have recommended it to people. To be honest, I texted a friend while the show was in intermission who I knew was trying to find a way to squeeze it into his schedule with “DO NOT SEE THIS. DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF. TALK TO YOU MORE ABOUT IT WHEN I SEE YOU ON MONDAY. DO NOT DO NOT DOOOO NOOOOOT.” And that was Amy the person, not Amy the reviewer.
I could have left that last paragraph out. Sure I could have. Thing is? Not to be too horn-tooty, people, but I’m a decent writer, and from the rest of the review, you’d know exactly where I stood. I came out and said I couldn’t recommend the show, but without saying it, I said it all through the rest of the review. That last paragraph was really just a summation of what came before. Take umbrage with it if you must, but the rest of the review said the same thing. Also? If you want a rainbows and sunshine review, and the show’s not (in my, as stated, OPINION) good? You’re not getting that from me. I don’t lie. Even if I have people I care about in the show, which has happened in the past. I will not lie in my reviews. It’s a promise I made to myself when I started, and it’s a promise I have vowed to keep to myself. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye if there was something published in the paper I didn’t 100% stand behind.
And, much as I have the right to my opinion, those people all have a right to theirs. I’m so very glad they enjoyed the show; I have to say I can’t exactly understand HOW they did, but I do understand that everyone’s respective cranks are turned in different ways, and this show turned theirs, and it left mine completely frozen in place. (THE CRANK IS NOT A EUPHEMISM.)
However: I do believe I’m completely in the right, as a reviewer, to say IN THE REVIEW that I recommend or don’t recommend a show. How this affects your ticket sales is not on my shoulders. As a friend who will not be named said when I told him this story: “If you don’t want bad reviews? STOP PRODUCING CRAP.”
Also, I’m pretty sure once you start getting hate mail, you’ve totally made it, right? I’m a wicked big deal now, yo. Look out, world, I’m like the next Michiko Kakutani. It’s only upward from here. Today hate mail, tomorrow LETTER BOMBS. Whoo-hoo!