Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review Squared, May 7, 2013

The Goldilocks Conundrum
Valerie Cardinal
Some time ago in this column, I discussed the issue of length of reviews. In the end, I concluded that reviews work in any length; it all depends on the production, the style of the review and the publication. However, there are times when reviews are just simply the wrong lengths. While I appreciate what each author was trying to do in the following reviews, I think they would benefit from switching review lengths, Freaky Friday-style. 
In the case of Anna Fuerstenberg’s review of Faust in The Rover, the issue is that it’s way too short to even give me a hint about the feel of the production. All I get from the review is that Faust is hysterical and I should go see it. However, not much is said about why it’s funny or why it’s not to be missed. 

Fuerstenberg does mention that Faust is done in the style of reader’s theatre. Since I don’t know much about this style, I would have liked a little more description. In 151 words, the only hint I get as to why this show is so delightful is that the actor who played Mephistophiles was hysterical. 

This review was clearly meant to make me call up the Segal Centre and snap up tickets to Faust immediately. It really didn’t – personally, I need a little bit more enticing information to make me believe that this production was as amazing as the reviewer wants me to think. 
The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Donnelly has the opposite problem; her review for Yukonstyle goes just a little too long. Not only do I get a picture of each of the main characters, but I also get a profile of all their motivations. This makes me feel like I’m getting spoilers. Much like movie trailers, reviews are best when they leave a little something to the imagination. Besides, the set-up of Yukonstyle is enough to get me interested; four people trying to get along while trapped indoors by the Yukon winter? I’m in. However, Donnelly’s review gets into the plot so much that I feel like I’ve seen part of the show already. 
Writing reviews is striking a difficult balance, and I’ve struggled with that as well. It’s hard to strike just the right middle ground between not enough and too much. Sometimes a review is too long, others it’s too short, and it’s complicated to find a way to make it just right. 


  1. I have to say, I'm deeply, deeply uncomfortable with the tone of this column thus far.

    What you're doing here is, in effect, shaming reviewers for working within their editors' guidelines. Especially with print and traditional media, word counts are set in stone by publication requirements. We need 400 words on this, and 50 words on that, and 900 words on this. The reviewer has no leeway, or at least no more leeway than begging and pleading and cajoling.

    And, yes, that often makes for lousy reviews. As a reviewer myself, I've definitely been in situations where I found myself watering down the quality of my review in order to meet a wordcount. (If your show left me so disinterested and unimpressed that I've only got 150 words to say about it, transmogrifying that into a 500-word piece is going to involve an awful lot of stretching.)

    But that's beyond my control. That's a concession I have to make to my medium, and to the fact that I work for an editor and a publisher, and to the fact that, in the service of having a publication to write for, I must make certain concessions to its needs.

    Placing this situation entirely at the writer's doorstep, as if they're incompetent or in need of remediation or otherwise deserving of a public call-out, is deeply, deeply unfair and completely the wrong approach if your end-game involves actually addressing the problem.

  2. Richard PietrowitzMay 8, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    This entire column makes me uncomfortable. Do we really need to be reviewing reviews? What exactly is the point?


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