The Second Act: Everyone’s a critic

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I didn’t like “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

I’m not saying, mind you, that is wasn’t good. I don’t do theater reviews. I’m not a professional critic and I don’t pretend to be objective. I just didn’t like it.

I might have left it at that, despite the fact that I was pretty much alone in my opinion. In fact, the reason I saw it in the first place was because my friend Sandy said it’s the best musical she’s ever seen. Sandy is one of the more creative and artistic individuals in my circle of friends and I value her opinions. Which is not to say that I always share them.

Anyway, I’d have been happy to keep my dislike private. Except, Sandy asked what I thought. And I told her.

Although I’m not a theater critic, I am involved in community theater and it is my responsibility to read plays our company might produce and provide (I hope) cogent opinions on them. There are some specific things I look for, including an engaging story, interesting and well-developed characters, some kind of meaningful theme and a potential for visual attractiveness. Although we don’t do musicals, were I evaluating a musical, I’d also hope for some catchy tunes. So, no, I’m not a critic, but I am critical.

I texted Sandy some specifics, like the story being undeveloped, my not engaging with the lead character, my characterization of the music as forgettable, and the few memorable parts as being Vaudeville slapstick. Her texted response: “You must have been tired or asleep.”

Now thinking back, I don’t recall hearing much support for my position after the enthusiastic standing ovation. Mutterings I caught as the audience filtered out were littered with things like “Terrific,” “Best thing I’ve seen here,” “Great music,” and “Laughed ’til I cried.” I’d kind of dismissed those as obligatory politeness.

Tired or asleep? That was a pretty stinging indictment, more so as I recalled startling to my wife’s jab in the ribs sometime near the end of the first act. I’d seen four plays this summer and really enjoyed three of them. I thought that was a pretty good record and I was willing to let this one go.

Sandy wasn’t. This time it was an email. “Carol, Jim, and Priscilla went last night and just LOVED it. Just saying …”

I have something of a reputation for tenacity, occasionally to the point of irritating those around me, but understand that I wasn’t driving this thing.

Another email. “Priscilla said J.K. Simmons was in the audience and he loved it. Just saying …”

I didn’t like “Whiplash,” either. (Oh my God! Did I just say that?) It was beginning to look like this thing wasn’t going to go away.

“You need to go see ‘Drowsy’ again,” she texted. “I could sit through it once more, but can’t justify paying for it twice.”

OK, it was game on. You want to see it again, we’ll see it again. I’ll pay. Sandy wanted to see it again. I had to see it again. What did so many people see in this play that I’d missed?

I hadn’t watched it the first time with a particularly critical eye. But this time I was ready. I’d watch it with an open, objective mind. I knew it was critical that I engage with the lead; I’d try. I knew I had to resonate with the music; I’d plan to enjoy it. I knew I needed to laugh at the Latin Lothario, the punning gangland bakers, and the dancing monkeys; I’d laugh if it killed me.

It was the final performance. The audience roared at the humor. They cheered at the musical numbers. They jumped at the chance to offer up a standing ovation. And I failed to engage with the lead, to remember the music, or to laugh at the monkeys. (I did enjoy the Latin Lothario, though.)

I don’t mind that I saw it twice and still didn’t like it. But I’m a little worried that I’m so out of touch with the rest of the audience. (It feels a little like a replay of the last presidential election.) But it is what it is, and I can live with it.

But I’m not sure Sandy can. She offered a final thought, a quote from somewhere. “The show was nominated for multiple Broadway (2006) and London (2008) theatre awards, winning five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards.”

Everyone, it seems, is a critic.

David Vale retired from the world of psychology and statistics and now owns the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork. “The Drowsy Chaperone” closed last month at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse after a season of sold-out performances.

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