My oldest son has been in a production this month of the play Stage Door (there was a movie adapted from the play that I was going to link you to, but, after looking at the movie specifics, I'm not doing that, because the plot of the movie is almost unrecognizable when compared to the plot of the play). It's just a small part, because he has the lead in their other production, Look Homeward, Angel, to be performed next year. To put it mildly, things have been busy, lately, our weekends packed with events, not the least of which have been shuttling our kids all over the place.
Before we went to the play, we asked my son about it, trying to figure out the best time to go and how much priority to give the play for his, basically, three minute performance. He completely downplayed it to the point where I kind of thought we should just skip it, because we were going to have to go on a school night, which was going to mean being out way past bedtime for the kids, since the play didn't even start until 7:00, and it was two and a half hours long. See, our son said Stage Door really wasn't very good. It wasn't about anything, and he really didn't like it.
No, he didn't try out for a play he didn't like. He didn't try out for it at all. They asked him to do the part because they were running short of guys, so he acquiesced.
We did try to get more out of him, but, basically, all we got was that it's about a bunch of girls living in a boarding house in New York trying to make it on Broadway. And that is what's about. But that's not a plot, and, as far as my son was concerned, it didn't have one. I have to say, I was ready to skip this one after hearing him talk about it. Oh, and it was being billed as a comedy, and my son couldn't figure out why, because he didn't think it was funny. Oh, there were a few places with laughs, but, you know, not a comedy. Not that he knew what it was.
But my wife wanted to go anyway, and I get that. We do want to support the program he's in even if it's just for three minutes of him on stage.
I'm so glad we went, because, well, he was just completely wrong about that play. It was great! And it was, actually, about something: the struggle to hold onto your dreams in the face of repeated rejection, something you writers out there ought to be familiar with. There were several story lines, but, really, all of them dealt with that same subject. It was good, and it was funny, although it did contain tragedy. Still, definitely a comedy since it has a happy ending.
So how could my son be so wrong about it? What was the problem with his criticism? Well, it's the source: he's a 16-year-old boy that just didn't "get" what the play is about. He had no context for understanding the struggles the young women were going through, so, to him, the play wasn't about anything more than a bunch of girls living in a house together. Later, maybe, once he's been out in the world a bit, he'll be able to understand. But not now.
The whole situation got me to thinking, though, again, about criticism and reviews and all of that stuff and how important it is to remember the source of the criticism (criticism here being used as the objective measure of merits and faults of a work). It reinforces my belief that negative reviews are just as necessary as possible ones, because we should all be looking at the source of any review or criticism. Does the review just bash a work without giving any reasons? Does it unashamedly praise the work without any given reasons? Neither of those things are helpful. Unless the source of the critique tells why s/he liked or didn't like a work, it's fairly unhelpful. Unless you have a feeling of why the source likes or doesn't like particular types of things, it isn't helpful.
All of that to say that the first thing I should have done when my son was telling me how much he doesn't like Stage Door was to consider the source. I know what he likes. He likes nerdy, geek stuff. ThinkGeek is his favorite non-place in the world. If it had been a play about aliens girls in a boarding house, he would have loved it. But it wasn't that, and it dealt with subject matter that he's not equipped to understand, yet, so he didn't like it. What I should have done was seek a better source of information.
That's always the problem with criticism. The source of it. In that respect, there's more of a responsibility on the reader to find what s/he feels is a reliable source. "What does this person like?" "Does this person give reasons for what s/he likes?" Because, you know, if you know what kind of things a reviewer likes, you can decide that you should check something out even based on a bad review.
And here's a good example:
The recent trashing of Guy Fieri's restaurant by the New York Times (and other New York food reviewers) resulted in a packed house for Fieri as people flooded the place to see if the food really could be as bad as the reviewer said. Here's a better response to all of that than I can give, never having eaten there. It's a good example, though, of taking into account the source of the review.
I wish all of you could go see Stage Door, but they ended their run this past weekend, even if you did live close enough to go see it. As the play teaches, hold onto your dreams. And, as I'm saying, remember the source of criticism. Weigh it as much as you would the material being reviewed. Positive or negative.
[Oh, and don't forget to drop by A Beer for the Shower and vote for my party! Thanks so much!]