It’s probably bad form to read and mock your reviews in public, but since I’m not an official theater person, I don’t think I’m bound by convention. Therefore, I must take issue with our terrible review today in the Scene.
(Though, just as a side note, I must say that I am shaking with delight that something I helped with has been reviewed in the Scene. How cool is that?! I mean, really, what the fuck? I write here every day and the only person from the Scene who ever says anything good or bad about it is Gandalph Mantooth, and never in the pages of the Scene.)
I have two big criticisms of the piece. The first is that Martin Brady’s whole critique rests on the notion that he’s just a little too jaded and worldly, too tuned into what "art" should be to sink to the level of actually enjoying the piece.
The second seems to be that Brady articulates the point of the piece, but doesn’t seem to understand what that actually means.
Let’s start with the second. Brady says, "Actual recorded faith testimonials serve as a springboard for the 14 scenes and four songs that make up this dramatic review." But then he complains about "strangely bloodless writing" and that "When it’s not naive, faith/doubt comes across as preachy, an odd outcome for a show that purports to show the blessedness of all faiths and creeds. Neither its obvious sincerity nor its focus on our most dearly held beliefs guarantees success. The show is long on uninspired storytelling and short on universal meaning."
Well, dear Brady, it seems to me that you didn’t really get what we were up to, then. The faith testimonials were not a "springboard." They were the whole piece. We took what people actually said and used their actual words. We didn’t rewrite anyone’s stories in order to come up with something "better" or more properly theater. We took those words that came out of y’all’s mouths and said them back to you.
A different kind of piece would have sorted through all the words folks in Nashville said and soaked them in and then come up with something different from but inspired by what we heard. That was not our mandate. Our mandate was to take this material and make people’s everyday faith stories new to them.
If you think the goal of the piece sucked, then say that the goal of the piece sucked. But don’t deliberately misunderstand the piece in order to criticize it for not being something it never set out to be.
If it’s sincere or naive or "bloodless," well, those are the stories people told us.
If Brady thinks that it fails because it "never really probes what it means to live in a frightening modern world or how faith sustains hope or fortitude to a person at a spiritual crossroads," I almost don’t know what to do for him but laugh. Most of the folks we talked to don’t think we live in a frightening modern world. Most folks either didn’t have those spiritual crossroads moments or, I would posit, didn’t find those moments to be the most meaningful moments of their spiritual lives to talk about.
Which brings us nicely to my first critique, that Brady thinks the piece isn’t sophisticated enough, that it doesn’t deal with big enough themes, like fear or doubt or ambiguity. But, when faced with the set, he complains "the actors settle into what presumably are church pews, but look suspiciously like jury boxes, leaving viewers to wonder whether what they’re about to witness concerns celebration or judgment." I mean, my god, yes, exactly.
That’s exactly what you’re supposed to wonder when you look at the set. Why is that a problem? If the play is too sincere and unambiguous for his tastes, why does he turn around and bitch about the things that don’t quickly reveal their meaning to him?
Anyway, I could go on. I won’t. I’ll just mention that it’s interesting to me that the same man who a week ago recommend it as a critic’s pick, this week hates it.