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Stage Raw: Dogs and Critics

Stage Raw: Dogs and Critics

The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS; Also, see this week's  THEATER FEATURE on Oleanna at the Taper
CONTRA-TIEMPO

Stage Raw: Dogs and Critics

The L.A.-based women's activist dance troupe, Contra-Tiempo, founded by Ana Maria Alvarez, fuses Salsa, Afro-Cuban, West African, Hip Hop and abstract dance. They perform Tueday, June 14, 8 p.m.  at The New LATC, 514 S, Spring Street. (213) 489-0994, or buy tickets here Photo courtesy of The New LATC.

For reflections on dogs and critics, press the Continue Reading tab directly below

DOGS AND CRITICS: Part 1

Photo courtesy Haans Toorvald/Golden Retriever Society of the Finnish Republic. Last Saturday night at a performance of The Crucible, at Actors-Co-op, I observed across the stage, in the front row of the opposing audience seating bank of the horseshoe configuration, a very well-behaved Golden Retriever watching the play when not dozing contentedly as his/her owners, stroked him/her on the head/ears as poor Elizabeth Proctor was being charged with conspiring with the devil.

Her husband, John Proctor, went into a rage -- the scene was set in their home, and they'd been intruded upon by a local cleric (not much separation of church and state in 1692 Massachussetts, where Arthur Miller's play is set). Forgive the vagueness of some details of the scene, because I was focused on the dog at the time. He/she lifted his/her head with concern/alarm when another cleric/witch-hunter burst out shouting/arguing, and a fist-fight appeared inevitable.

The dog appeared deeply troubled by this, as were we all, but a few caresses under the chin put the dog's fears at rest. The chin hit the ground with a thump, there was large sigh, which yielded to sleep.

(I learned at intermission that the dog was being trained for service to the blind.)


It was a cause for reflection on how we process the age-old "suspension of disbelief" compared to animals. I remember being told that this was a uniquely human phenomenon of our Holy rite of storytelling. We willingly suspend what we know to be true (that these are actors on the stage who are pretending to fight, and that we're in 21st century Hollywood, not 17th century Massachussetts, etc. etc.) and that we get emotionally embroiled anyway as we willfully disregard facts and circumstances we know to be true.

Crawling inside the dog's heart and head for a moment, upon understanding that this was performance -- and that comprehension was clear from the dog's temperament -- the animal observed the "conflict" for a while before entering what looked from the outside like a blissful slumber.

The dog was neither fooled nor particularly interested in the pretend drama -- which renders the sacred qualities we attribute to "suspension of disbelief" perhaps a little high-minded.

Then again, if the actors had been canines, it might have been a very different picture.

DOGS AND CRITICS: Part 2

Stage Raw: Dogs and Critics

In the flyer to the left, note the facetious pull-quote: "It's one of the damndest things I ever did saw" -- attributed to "Some Old Guy"

Earlier this week, one of the Weekly's critics, who is actually some young guy, saw in the program of a show he was reviewing a pull-quote from a show he'd reviewed a couple of years earlier, attributed to him -- sparkling adjectives that he didn't recall having written.  He was not amused. He looked up his old review and confirmed that the theater had actually fabricated a glowing notice under his name.

I intervened via a phone call on his behalf and received  apologies that somebody from the theater compiled pull-quotes from reviews by conflating a number of sources, and had made an error.

It's one thing to remove reviews from their context. After  my very annoyed review of Pippin at the Taper, I used the words "damnably compelling" to described the fine stagecraft as being in support of a vision that was out of touch with the most pressing concerns of our times. Later that week, I discovered that CTG's marketing department had used under my name "Damnably compelling" in a series of rave pullquotes. The words, however, were mine.

It's quite another thing for critics to discover words they did not use under their name.  All we have is our name, says John Procter in The Crucible, when told that the confession he must sign in order to save his life will be posted all over the village. On learning this, he rips up his own confession, preferring to face the gallows that be condemned by words he knows aren't true. Private words are have their own code of integrity, but public words are locked in cement. The stakes are way higher for John Procter than for any theater critic, but the principle is more or less the same.
 


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