Why I Write Reviews

In Shawn Pfautsch’s Season on the Line, the narrator says that what he loves about theatre is that it is always here and now; when it is over, all that is left are the reviews, through which theatre lives on long after its closing night.

In a sense, that is why I write theatre reviews. Certainly, it is sometimes to inform – which shows I would recommend, which I would avoid – and that goes doubly with reviewing restaurants. But for the theatre, in a very real sense, people’s memories and impressions of the show are all that is left. I want to share with you what I thought, and how I felt, about the shows that I’ve seen. By the year’s end, I will have seen well over a hundred shows in Chicago, as well as a few shows on Broadway and national tours elsewhere, and I have opinions on each of them.

Ideally, of course, I would be able to post reviews after opening night as the proper critics do. Recommending a show after it has closed is not especially helpful, after all. Unfortunately, the demands of a full-time job unrelated to the theatre make that difficult. But I see value in reviews even after a show has closed as commentary on the merits of the play itself, or the theatre company as a whole, or the actors involved. I used to read old reviews to see whether a play is written well, or if an actor is especially talented, or if a theatre company has promise. I’d read reviews of a national tour in the city just before Chicago to get a feel for the production and what to expect. And I read reviews to remember shows I’ve seen and loved.

I try not to read reviews before I see shows anymore – as a character in Season on the Line said, we all have expectations, and they shape how we view the world. If I’m going to write a review, I’d like for it to be as uninfluenced by others as it can be.

I love restaurants, and I love food. I have since I was a small child; my mom tells a story that I would request salmon steaks and artichokes for my 4th birthday dinner. I enjoy trying new restaurants and returning to old favorites. But I have a special place in my heart for the theatre. I have rarely been disappointed at the theatre in the way I am not unfrequently disappointed at restaurants. I have never loved a restaurant the way I do The House Theatre’s Season on the Line, American Theater Company’s Hair, or the Chicago production of The Book of Mormon. I think part of the reason why I continually search out new restaurants is that I hope to someday find a restaurant that will be that for me – a restaurant to change how I live my life, change how I think about the world, a restaurant I will love wholeheartedly. That is a tall order, certainly. Until then, I will settle for hopefully eating some good food.

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