Introducing: Theater reviews for people who are afraid of bad theater


Bad Phantom. Via the Show Nuff tumblr of bad theater publicity photos

In the seven years I lived in Chicago before I met J, I think I saw a total of 2 or 3 plays. After we got together we saw about 2 or 3 a week. Now we have the baby, I maybe see about that many a month.

J is my own personal theater planner, guiding me to things he knows I will like, that are well acted, and telling stories I’ll be interested in hearing.

Ok, occasionally we see stuff that fails on all those counts… But at least he’ll warn me ahead of time, so I know what I’m getting myself into.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the theater before I met J. After all, I used to go all the time when I was in school. Either with my school drama club, that organized monthly outings to sit in the teeny tiny benches right up in the rafters of the Bristol Old Vic. Or with an aunt who would take me to plays by Noel Coward and musicals by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

(Fun fact I have discovered after hanging out with too many actors: most of them will only admit to a childhood obsession with Andrew Lloyd Weber when they are really really drunk.)

I know what put me off going, before I had my own personal theater-guide. The fear of bad theater.

See, with a movie, you pretty much know what to expect ahead of time. There are trailers, reviews, you have a general idea of what the actors or director are likely to come up with. Even if it’s a bad movie, it’s likely you’ll have some sense of this before you go in.

If you’re not part of the ‘theater world’ of your particular town, you’ve no way of knowing any of this with a play. Being in that business, J has a good working knowledge of the theater companies, directors, actors, etc in Chicago. It’s hard to know if you’ll be wasting money and a free evening out if you don’t have access to your own inside source.

Plus there is something inherently excruciating about bad theater. The threat of it is more powerful than the promise of good theater.

Maybe it’s the fear someone may ask you to interact in some way. (Ewh.) Or that you’ll inadvertently break into the action yourself by getting a fit of giggles, or falling asleep and snoring.

Bad acting is always a big fear of mine too. Worse: bad, earnest, acting, by people who really care that you also understand how dreadful [insert important cause here] is. If it were a movie, you could laugh from a distance. The idea of being stuck in a room with the actors, and that they can actually see you rolling your eyes, is hideous.

When I started asking other people what they thought about this, J said it’s the fear of nudity. Because it’s like that feeling when you’re sitting on the couch as a teenager watching tv with your parents, and you suddenly realize there is a sex scene coming. And you know there is nothing you can do to avoid it and you’re just going to all have to sit there in silence and watch… That feeling. That’s what the fear of bad theater is like.

The fear of bad theater comes down to the potential for embarrassment.

But good theater is a lot of fun! And ought to be enjoyed by people other than the old rich white folk who make up most audiences these days.

So as part of this blog I want to do occasional review posts of plays we go see, that will be Theater reviews for people who are scared of bad theater. Obviously most of the plays I’ll talk about are in Chicago.

A caveat before we begin: I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a theater person. I have no expertise at all for writing reviews, other than my lack of expertise. I am ignorant of the technicalities and the history and the things one is meant to be able to appreciate. But I get taken to see a lot of great stuff by J, so I can at least point you in the direction of that.

I’m also aware that the cost is a big issue for many people. We see most of the shows we go to for free or at big discounts, because J knows people involved or where to find the discount codes. So I’ll try to recommend things that are relatively affordable (i.e. not blockbuster prices, which to be honest we never get given tickets to anyway) and that are going to absolutely be worth your while seeing.

[EDIT, mid-August: Obviously when I wrote this I forgot we wouldn’t be seeing any theater all summer, because J is currently in a play himself so we have no evenings free to see anything else. But don’t panic! Come the fall I’ll be back at it!]


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