Josh Gildrie's review of Oedipus the King had some strange statements in it that bear examination. ["A Blinded King," Feb. 11, 2010]
He wrote that the role of the reviewer in the process of "theatre as discussion" is overrated; a discussion he admits he does not understand. As a theatre professional, and someone who did not hear Professor MacLean's curtain speech, perhaps I can enlighten Mr. Gildrie about his job.
Of course theatre is a discussion. A play is presented to elicit a response, both in the short term (laughter, tears, applause) and the long term (discussions over a glass of wine after the show, perhaps, or in classrooms/on the job the next day). We do this so you the audience will experience something you have never known and want to share it with friends. This is the nature of the discussion: We talk, you respond. We in turn listen to what you say (through increased ticket sales or empty houses) and we respond (The Clarence Brown follows Oedipus with a revival of Charley's Aunt, perhaps).
For theatre professionals, as for newspaper editors, the critic has a crucial role. The critic provides uncommon insight, using lively and provocative writing to weigh the merits of a show for an audience that is unversed in stagecraft, acting, or theatre literature.
This brings up another odd bit of Mr. Gildrie's writing: "[producing Oedipus] poses an enormous challenge... We all know the story." This is strange on two counts. First, it is a remarkable grasp of the obvious. Even Sophocles' audience knew the story. Tragedy isn't about surprise. Imagine writing about the enormous challenge of the KSO playing Beethoven. After all, we all know the Fifth Symphony.
Second, in the case of Oedipus is that strictly true? What we all know is that Oedipus has married his mother and blinded himself. But only a small percentage of the audience could tell you, before seeing the show, why. (A quick check would show that UT students are not required to read the play for freshman English, and who reads Sophocles for fun?) Wouldn't it be the job of the critic to put these events in the context of the whole plot, thus preparing the audience for a deeper understanding of the tragedy?
As a human being, Mr. Gildrie has a right to his opinion. As Metro Pulse readers, we are entitled to more than that: We want a depth of understanding expressed in compelling ways (even if it's a pan). A good critic creates better audiences. Better audiences create better theatre (and bigger readership for the Metro Pulse). It's a win-win result.