Regardless of the artistic medium or performers’ level of expertise, the critic’s tripartite responsibilities include informer, consumer advocate, and entertainer. If I were to write a review of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre’s “Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure” production, I would keep those tasks in mind while highlighting the features of community theater such as volunteer performers/staffers and a small production budget.
Context and actor experience are necessary review components: one would not critique the Kalamazoo College basketball team the same way one would evaluate the Los Angeles Lakers. Sophisticated communication, superior execution and raw experience demarcate professionals from amateurs. I came into “Sherlock Holmes” knowing it was an amateur production in a small Midwestern city (or a middling farming village by Chinese standards). Previous community theater works and campus productions defined my evaluation prism.
My lack of familiarity with the Sherlock Holmes tale left me at an extreme disadvantage. If I were to formally review this play, I would acquaint myself with the most important Sherlock Holmes adaptations to fully understand this director’s artistic vision and this playwright’s dramatic intent. Even at the local theater level, a formal reviewer should have intimate knowledge of the story’s differing interpretations and progressions.
Beyond being sucked into a mystery, I didn’t have personal expectations for the work. I feel uncomfortable responding to this question because outlining expectations and evaluating whether the production confirmed preconceived hopes is treading close to conflict of interest territory. I fear citing specific set, acting, or written elements could lead to a violation of journalism ethics.
The show’s elements must be analyzed both individually and holistically. The aural and visual components should be combined because the reviewer must accurately inform the public on the entire production experience; yet highlighting specific elements of the play may demonstrate knowledge of the medium and an appreciation for its gradations.
Personally, reviewing film is less challenging than reviewing theatrical productions because I have more exposure to film and took the Reading Film course three years ago. Reading Film taught me a basic technical vocabulary for film analysis, which benefitted my artistic understanding. At this stage, I lack the technical vocabulary and training to write a nuanced theater critique.
When evaluating a play, I would consider how it meshes with similar works. I would use actor and crew expertise, equipment quality, and the venue itself to classify a production. There is no “one size fits all” approach to theater reviews. As each artistic medium is different, the critical expectations shift to fit the medium’s specific characteristics. Yet the fundamental stress on critic as informer, consumer advocate, and entertainer is unwavering.
For the 30 Rock joke (RIP): http://mimg.ugo.com/201102/6/3/0/175036/sherlock-homie.png