Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review Squared, April 9, 2013

It Was Great, But…
by Valerie Cardinal

We’ve all been there; sitting in a play that is perfectly enjoyable, yet just a little something is off. The actors are good, you’re enjoying the show, but there’s something stopping you from wanting to tell your friends that this is the play of the season. As a critic, it’s our job to pin down exactly what was wrong, be it the writing, the set design, the acting, the directing or anything else. 

This week, I found three reviews from Montreal written by critics who liked the play, but didn’t love it for some reason. The first two are reviews for Ludwig and Mae and Avec Norm, both written by Pat Donnelly for The Montreal Gazette. The third is from the Rover, a French review of Quartett by Mélanie Grondin. 

This boils down to the same problem Donnelly also had with Avec Norm: the script.

In all three, the reviewers enjoyed the show. But also in all three, there was just a little something that was off. In Ludwig and Mae and Avec Norm, it was the writing. In Quartett, it was the directing. All three reviews show just how much a single aspect of a production can change everything. 

All three reviews praise the acting; “Il faut le dire, le jeu des comédiens est incroyable,” writes Grondin. In Avec Norm, Donnelly discusses the strong performance of leading actor Benoît McGinnis. She also notes that in Ludwig and Mae, the charm of the first part of a trilogy comes through the actors, which leads to frustrations when those same characters are played by different actors in the next part. 

For Ludwig and Mae, the main problem for Donnelly is the length. “It starts out brilliantly but goes on far too long: three hours and 45 minutes, with two intermissions included.” This boils down to the same problem Donnelly also had with Avec Norm: the script. She comments that playwright Serge Boucher’s “broken pieces never quite fuse into a whole.”

Meanwhile, Grondin’s slight problem with Quartett comes down to the directing. “En effet, le texte peut être bien écrit, le jeu des acteurs peut être impressionnant et les décors peuvent être frappants, mais la pièce peut demeurer laborieuse si la mise en scène ne lui rend pas service.” Grondin discovered that even when the acting, writing and set design is on-point, the direction can be totally wrong. 

Overall, it’s satisfying to be able to pin down exactly what in a performance didn’t work. I think that’s part of a critic’s job; to be able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with something and make other people say, “oh, that’s what was missing.”

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