Written by Scotty Keister
The theater critic has existed as long as theater itself. Ask Plato. It’s a co-dependent relationship where both thrive on each other’s existence. For the ever-sensitive actor the critic carries a double-edged sword: if they get a good review they love the critic like family; if they get a bad review (or no review at all) the critic is a complete moron who should be tarred and feathered. However, the theater depends on the critic’s review to bring in the crowds, they have access to the media and some people even read reviews. So there is the delicate balance of the relationship, based on an ever-tentative tolerance.
This relationship gets trickier when the critic is a member of the local theater scene, as both a participant, colleague and friend. For myself, I’ve been acting and writing in local theater in the Fullerton area since 2005. Several years ago I was invited to start writing critiques on Facebook for a local theater, a theater where I had acted in shows and had many friends. Knowing how touchy theater folks can be – they don’t call it drama for nothing – I was a little hesitant, and I warned them that I was going to be honest. But they liked my writing and were okay with that. So far I’ve had no complaints, at least not to my face. I’ve also started writing reviews for this website over the past year. Although I’ve been writing reviews on and off for forty years, I’m a relative newby to the OC theater world.
Joel Beers has been writing theater criticism in Orange County for twenty years, in the OC Weekly. Joel is easily the funniest and best writer of all local theater critics (of which there are few), and for my money, the most versed in the subject matter. Like me, Joel is a member of the theater world, as a playwright. He’s had a number of plays produced at Stages Theater over the years, and writes reviews for every theater in town, although the Weekly has seriously cut back on space for Arts the past few years. Joel gets criticized a lot by people in the theater world for being too hard on local theaters. He speaks his mind and is always honest. If he’s critical it’s because he holds the world of theater to a high standard. Nobody expects Broadway standard production values on a community theater level, but one does expect good quality theater: writing, acting, directing, design, imagination. That doesn’t require money. Joel will always research shows he’s reviewing, looking for interviews or background on the writer and the play. He does this because he takes it seriously.