One show, two nights, two reviews

The Brave New Workshop’s latest production “Save the Planet: Yes we can, but do we have to?” opened over the weekend. Two reviews of the production reveal how critics can have differing viewpoints, and how the production can change from one evening to the next.

Graydon Royce got to the show on Friday night, and his take-away was lukewarm, writing “laughter is uncomfortably absent on several occasions.” Royce points out “the material seems more eager to offend than has been the case recently at the Workshop” but remarks it comes across as more bravado than bravery.

The following night freelance writer Quinton Skinner made his way to the Brave New Workshop, and his review was a clear rave. He writes that the Brave New Workshop delivers ample quantities of “sharp, smart and uninhibited comedy.” He goes on to state:

What stands out… is the cohesion and energy of a cast that has worked together long enough to elevate its work to a level of deceptive smoothness and attention to detail.

From the two critiques it’s not hard to glean that Royce probably has a lower tolerance than Skinner for swearing and vulgarity. Royce notes he’s never heard so many references to the uterus since attending “The Vagina Monologues.” But he acknowledges his bias when he writes “These are just the facts, ma’am. You can decide whether that’s your cup of hemlock.”

Two differing viewpoints, however, don’t account for one critic experiencing awkward silences while the other walked away untroubled. Or do they?

I called up a couple of the core performers of Brave New Workshop, Joe Bozic and Lauren Anderson, to get their takes. Bozic noted that Graydon Royce came to the show on opening night, which Bozic says, tends to be a “rockstar performance” due to all the BNW “superfans” in the audience. Bozic says opening night often gets louder and longer laughs, and this opening night was no exception.

By contrast, Bozic says Quinton Skinner went to an early show on Saturday (7pm, as opposed to the 9pm 10pm late show), which tends to draw an older, more conservative crowd. Given the two reviews, you might have expected the two reviewers to have switched places. Bozic says he believes the Friday and Saturday night performances were both strong, and it’s the reviewers mindsets that made the difference.

Lauren Anderson takes a different approach. “If we’re doing our job right, every sketch someone will love, someone will hate, and someone will get offended by,” she said.

She actually viewed Graydon Royce’s review as pretty positive. But she says she has particular respect for theater critics:

My expectation from reviewers is that they see more theater than anybody else. It’s like, my sense of humor started to change once I started to do comedy for a living. So now it takes quite a bit to make me laugh. I think that happens to reviewers as well. What your typical audience would laugh at a reviewer could go ‘oh I’ve seen that before.’

So what do you think? And where do you get your information to help you figure out which shows to see?

Oh and heads up – tune in to All Things Considered tonight for a look at how blogs and other social media are changing the way artists promote their work, and how audiences get their reviews. It’s the first in a two part in-depth report by MPR’s Chris Roberts.

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