Sometimes, when the dust has settled, it is nice to go back
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I was walking my dog a few days ago when off in the distance, coming toward me, was a man and his dog. In a few seconds a profound malaise came over me. A critic's nightmare: you are about to run into someone to whom you gave a negative review. The someone coming toward me was Andrew Shaver, director of Haunted Hillbilly now playing at Centaur.
Now Andrew probably does not remember this but before I started the whole CharPo business I had run into him at a depanneur - I was recovering from a very long illness - and he said, "When are you coming back." So he is, to some extent, responsible for the existence of The Charlebois Post. Since then our meetings on the street have had more to do with our two crazy dogs. His is big, mine is small and they both have a chip on their shoulder. It culminated with my dog attacking his and me getting so pissed at my idiot animal that I did a César Milan trick: I lifted my Jack Russell up by the scruff of the neck and presented his gonads to Andrew's dog. When I put my dog down, he got on his hind legs, put his front paws on the shoulders of Andrew's dog and they kissed. Good times.
So what to do, now, with him coming toward me? I called out first, he called back and we let our dogs say hello. I uttered the only thing that came into my head, "Congratulations on the great reviews!" Now this may sound stupid but it requires saying that my own review of his show was the ONLY negative one. Moreover, I was glad he had gotten nothing but positives elsewhere because I like Andrew, I very much like his company and I think it's an important part of the national scene. (In passing, we have two mid-level companies which - to my mind - are not only crucial to the Montreal scene but also to the national: Andrew's Sidemart Theatrical Grocery and Scapegoat Carnivale.)
It was after Andrew and I (and our dogs) parted that I realized there is more to say on the subject of Haunted Hillbilly and much of it has to do with the state of criticism. I have noticed a few things. For one, the younger critics (i.e.: bloggers) have been unreservedly loving toward the play. I suspect it is because Sidemart is doing something that hasn't been seen in Montreal for a very long time: professional-level melds of rural story-telling and its idiosyncratic music. Sidemart is also doing it with a good deal of energy and in a spirit of complicity with the audience that you see often in Fringe and alternative theatre houses. It is right that younger audiences and reviewers would love the show to pieces.
I bring my own skills and memory to the party and hope that crowd and those critics do too.
But I am not young, nor is the Centaur audience, for the most part. Nor, in passing, are many of the other critics. I bring my own skills and memory to the party and hope that crowd and those critics do too.
So, now, please note that phrase, "for a very long time." This is where the critics in this city over 40 and I part ways on Haunted Hillbilly. Surely they remember Paper Wheat, Cruel Tears, Ten Lost Years - all shows which saw their way to this city and which combined rural story-telling and idiosyncratic music. For us Hillbilly - at Centaur - should be nothing sparkling new. Also, those three works held a kind of reverence for rural story-telling and music and presented both arts with historicity. What made me nervous about Hillbilly was that I could not guess the intentions of the company and suspected a kind of smugness that may not have been there - that they were mocking the people of the piece and their music instead of putting forward content that allows the audience to do that.
The rest, as they say, is simply a matter of opinion. (Though I suspect many critics are nervous about throwing around the credentials that come with mere longevity as it might mean - horrors! - that they are no longer "hip".)
All this is to say that my negative review does not signal that Sidemart has gone up in flames. It does precisely what I want all my reviews to do - warrant comparison and discussion…and allow fucked up dogs to come together in harmony.