When Theater Criticism Becomes Personal

Pasadena Star News and Stage Struck theater critic, Frances Baum Nicholson, has been AWOL for the last month or so due to the death of her mother. Recently she re-emerged and published this essay reflecting on how that passing has affected her as a theater critic. It’s touching and illuminating and in many ways speaks to all of us, artist and critic, and how not only SHOULD we allow the context and circumstances of our lives to bleed into our work, but really, we have no other choice in the matter.

Here are some excerpts:

Why do I bring this up? Because, much to my surprise, for the first month and a half after my mother’s timely and peaceful death, I found it excruciatingly difficult to write about the theater she had taught me to love. Initially I supposed it was a part of that reexamination of life, but now I have come to understand that this was more likely symptomatic of being attacked by what I now call the “grief ninjas”: those moments which strike without warning and drag one back into a darker space. The holidays exacerbated the problem, as did a remarkable production I saw but simply could not discuss on these pages. I now believe it is time to pull up my socks, mention the show, and move on, at least in the arena of this blog and my life as a critic…

And here comes the problem. The actors in the Taper production (JoBeth Williams, Ribert Foxworth, Robin Weigert, Michael Weston and Jeannie Berlin) were so good, their characters so well crafted, and the story so compelling that I kept thinking about my own family and the correlation of my story to theirs in general theme, though the specifics are widely different. Essentially, it seemed to hit too close to the emotional bone. I wanted to tell everyone to go see it, as it was splendid, but at the same time I felt as if putting my enthusiasm into words was opening a vein…

Very raw and personal stuff, LemonHeads. Check it out if you can.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    Walter Kerr’s review of “I Am a Camera” was three words:

    “Me no Leica.”

    The personal voice, and the importance of one’s own experience to the analysis of someone else’s work, are among the most interesting things about any piece of criticism. Without them, it’s all academic.