A Theater’s Great White Whale
They are shadows of each other: performance and criticism. Performance without criticism is art in a vacuum. Criticism without performance is simply being grumpy. They love each other, they hate each other, but most of all: they need each other. Work grows by excellence in criticism and criticism grows by excellence in work.- Narrator and novice Assistant Stage Manager of Bad Settlement Theatre Company in Season on the Line
What is the equivalent of Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white whale for a theater company? A sold-out run? Awards? Profit? Fame?
Or is it that ever elusive glowing review in the paper?
In Season on the Line, Bad Settlement Theatre Company Artistic Director Ben Adonna is hell-bent on getting the perfect review of his adaption of Moby Dick from Arthur Williamson, the most influential critic in the region. Ben is so devoted to his cause that he has “…every single one of Arthur’s reviews plastered to my walls…I know what he wants. I know what he’s after. I know what his reviews are before he even rights them. I know Arthur better than Arthur knows Arthur.’
With a determination that rivals Ahab’s desire to kill Moby Dick, Ben sways his Bad Settlement Crew with the idea that only Arthur’s words matter in deciding whether a play is any good. Shawn Pfautsch’s script reveals just how this idea infects and influences his company of artists at the end of Act II, which I saw last week at a rehearsal.
It is the opening night party of Bad Settlement’s production of Balm in Gilead. The crew is having fun, dancing with each other, and enjoying Kaku’s cocktails. (Fictional Bad Settlement ensemble member Kaku Wada has the super-power of knowing what someone will drink and why they drink it even before they order it!) All in all, they are celebrating their work and feeling happy that they have opened a kick-ass show. But the mood changes completely when company member Peter screams, ‘Stop! Reviews are up!’
Jess McLeod, the director of Season on the Line (I know it can get confusing when we are talking about a play that is about making multiple plays.) urges the cast to (and I am paraphrasing a bit here), ‘We don’t even need look or react to each other. Just read the review as if it is the most important thing you have ever read in your life.’
The room immediately turns dead silent. Everyone stops what they are doing and whips out their phones to read what Arthur (Played by Sean Sinitski, standing in the front) has to say about the show.
Jess’s direction serves the scene right because these artists, converted to Ben’s purposes, believe that the words of a single influential critic can make a theater sink or swim. And could they be right? Our fictional friends at Bad Settlement haven’t had a big hit since last time Arthur gave them a good review. On the verge of bankruptcy, the theater could shipwreck if Arthur pans the show. This is truly their season on the line. And the chase for their white whale is on!
Set sail with Bad Settlement Theatre Company at Season on the Line this fall!