Why This Critic Doesn’t Pal Around with Theater Folk

Image result for no friends allowed


It all started with a huge mistake. Actually, I wouldn’t realize what a huge mistake it was until later. At first it seemed like the most professional and ethical thing I could do. The thing? Reviewing a show written by a dear friend of mine.

This was fairly early in my career (both generally and in this particular city) and so I felt that in order to REALLY show how objective, unwooable, immune to outside influences and principled I could be, I needed to do it. To sharpen my pencil and critically examine one of my closest friend’s labor of love.

It was fine, he said. Have at it, he said. And he meant it. Not that his seemingly laissez-faire, progressive attitude helped me much when, midway through his play, I knew I was going to have to give it a pan.

Long story short, I was true to my less than complimentary thoughts and reviewed it as I saw fit. And I was nauseous for about a full week after. I’m sure my friend felt the same way. At least I assume that’s why we didn’t speak for what felt like an eternity but was, in reality, probably only a couple of weeks.

Thankfully our lines of communication once again opened after the allotted guilt/anger period and we today remain thick as thieves. But the lesson I learned from this episode haunts me still. Like Jacob Marley warning Scrooge about the chains one forges in life, I too have heeded the exhortations and have been changed for good.

Under no circumstances should a critic review a friend’s play, I now firmly believe. Sure, but that was the obvious lesson. My epiphany went further than that. I walked away with a much deeper and, I believe, irreproachable set of principles. Under no circumstances EVER become friendly with anyone whose work you think you one day might want or need to review. It puts one in a potentially awkward position, it unnecessarily stresses friendships and most importantly, it leaves readers wondering what your motives are, whether you deliver a pan, a rave or something in between. It’s the motive one that I worry about most as reputation and credibility are things we, as critics, cannot afford to even come close to tarnishing.

(*Full disclosure, there has been one case in Houston where I have dined with an occasional theater maker who is a mutual friend of another journalist I’m close with. But it this instance, I have made it very clear to that artist that I will recuse myself should her work ever find its way on stage here in future.)

This ‘no theater friends’ principle is something I’ve adhered to for a long while now and so I was thrilled when a critic colleague, whom I like personally and respect professionally, recently decided to write about it. In his article entitled, Why it’s a bad idea for theatre critics to be friends with anyone who’s in the biz, (https://goo.gl/PsYM5u), NOW Magazine Editor/Writer Glen Sumi describes his own reasoning for why critics shouldn’t rub sociable shoulders with theater makers. Undeterred by other critics in his market who are not only friends with theater people, but have directed and even married them, Sumi lays out his own thoughtfully professional reasons for wanting to steer clear of these kind of conflicts.

I loved the article and said so loudly to all who would listen on social media and in earshot range. But I also felt that it didn’t go far enough. You see, laying out standards for how a critic behaves and who they befriend before a show is only half the battle. It’s also what we do post production that can give off the wrong impression and compromise a critic’s integrity.

Thou shalt not attend an opening night party where it is customary to socialize with the creative team and partake in free food and drink if thou are reviewing said show or will be reviewing one of their shows in future. Like an 11th Commandment meant just for critics, it’s a code of conduct I’ve assigned myself. It’s also a principle I’ve been recently talking about with my critic friends in Houston.

Not that everyone is happy to hear of my beliefs. Some critics feel that attendance at the after party is a kind of reward or thank you for their work. To them I counter that the free tickets (with the added bonus of a plus one) is the ‘reward’ for their work whereas the party is a thank you exclusively for the company’s patrons, friends and family. We should not as critics be scarfing down shrimp platters or draining wine bottles paid for by the companies we write about. Plus there’s always the threat of having to make pleasant small talk with folks that you may be going home to write unfavorably about. To my mind it’s bad manners at best and questionably unethical at worst.

Other critics argue that the opening eve party is a great place to chat to theater makers, gather insight and even score a nifty scoop or two. This holds a little more weight with me, but still I would argue that a party atmosphere where friendly socializing is going on is not the place for these discussions. You want insight from an actor/director/playwright? Book an interview. Don’t wait until they (and potentially you) are a tad tipsy or just post-show high and spilling beans. Critics should be professionals, not cocktail party buddies.

However, before anyone thinks I’m espousing a complete and impenetrable friendship firewall between critic and artist I’m happy to say that I have several close relationships with people in the theater. Friendships that have given me incredible insight into the struggles, challenges and issues that directors, actors, writers and designers face. Friendships that have absolutely sharpened my eye, deepened my knowledge and made me a better critic.

But here’s the thing. These theater artist friends of mine live nowhere near my reviewing area. Most of them aren’t even in the same country as I am. Some relationships were forged after leaving a city to go write elsewhere and some I’ve actively sought out as sounding boards to help me get a better understanding of their craft. After all, who wants a critic that doesn’t intimately appreciate how uniquely creative a projection designer needs to be or all the ways a director shapes a show or how an actor feels when they land a role in a play they know isn’t very good and so on. Yes we can read about these things or study them in school, but there’s no greater insight than hearing it from the horse’s mouth. And insight for us who judge is a priceless commodity.

Now I know that my stance is by no means the consensus among critics. I’ve been told that my principles are overly strict, isolating and just plain silly. After all, we are all part of the same ecosystem and surely we can co-exist as friends, understanding that each has a job to do. And if that works for other critics, I will respectfully agree to disagree and conclude that everyone must conduct their own ethical policing as they see fit. I just know what works for me and what lets me sleep at night.

My purpose for writing this was not necessarily to change anyone’s mind or wag a finger at those that behave differently than I do. But rather to disclose the way I work. And as always to start a conversation.
I’ve always believed that my reviews aren’t verdicts, but rather the start of a discussion. I hope this ‘review’ of my own process does the same.

The Judgment of Fools – Houston Press Review

(L-R) Jason Duga, Callina Situka, Laura Moreno, Brendon Duran and Ronnie Blaine in Judgment of Fools

(L-R) Jason Duga, Callina Situka, Laura Moreno, Brendon Duran and Ronnie Blaine in Judgment of Fools. Photo by David Tong.


The Judgment of Fools

Written by: Bernardo Cubría

Directed by: Philip Hays

Company: Horse Head Theatre Company

Run Dates: Through November 12, 2016



Read my review of Judgment of Fools for Houston Press at



Dry Land – Houston Press Review

Skyler Sinclair and Kat Cordes in Dry Land.

Skyler Sinclair and Kat Cordes in Dry Land. Photo by Gentle Bear Photography.


Dry Land

Written by: Ruby Ray Spiegel

Directed by: Julia Traber

Company: Mildred’s Umbrella

Run Dates: Through October 31, 2016



Read my review of Dry Land for Houston Press at 



A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Houston Press Review


(L–R) Joy Yvonne Jones, Luke Hamilton, McKenna Marmolejo and Jay Sullivan in the Alley Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Lynn Lane.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Written by: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Gregory Boyd

Company: Alley Theatre

Run Dates: Through November 5, 2016



Read my review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Houston Press at


De Kuss – Houston Press Review


Eric Dean White and Lisa Tejero in De Kus. Photo by Peter Wochniak.


De Kuss

Written by: Ger Thijs

Translated by: Paul Evans

Directed by: Kenn Mclaughlin

Company: Stages Repertory Theatre

Run dates: Through October 30, 2016



Read my review of De Kuss for Houston Press at




Becky Shaw – Houston Press Review


Reed Walker and Darin Montemayor in Becky Shaw. Photo by Pin Lim.


Becky Shaw

Written by Gina Gionfriddo

Directed by: Kelsey McMillan

Company: Firecracker Productions

Run Dates: Through October 22



Read my review of Becky Shaw for Houston Press at



The Redemption Series – Houston Press Review

(L to R) Justin Gibbons, Faith Fossett, Estee Burks and Brandon Hobratschk in Creatures of Habit.

(L to R) Justin Gibbons, Faith Fossett, Estee Burks and Brandon Hobratschk in Creatures of Habit. Photo by by Christopher J Fraher.


The Redemption Series

12 short plays:

SUMMER STORM, by Jaisey Bates
directed by Melanie Burke

directed by Rob Kimbro

STOP FRISK, by Rich Rubin
directed by Cheramie Hopper

GYM CLASS HEROES, by Dillon Rouse
directed by Mara McGhee

directed by Vicky Comesanas

NORTH BEND, by Ariene Jaffe
directed by Lauren Hance

CREATURES OF HABIT, by Blaise Miller
directed by Sophia Watt

BULL, by Peter Snoad
directed by Clara Goodwin

THE BETROTHAL, by Germaine Shames
directed by Rebecca Bernstein

directed by Jonathan Gonzales

DALLAS/LOVE THE BOMB, by Josh Inocéncio
directed by Erika Watson

DANCE AGAIN, by Emilio Rodriguez
directed by Stephen M. Miranda

Company: Landing Theatre

Run Dates: Through October 1, 2016



Read my review of The Redemption Series for Houston Press at


In the Heights – Houston Press Review

Rayanne Gonzales as Abuela Claudia and Anthony Lee Medina as Usnavi in In The Heights.

Rayanne Gonzales as Abuela Claudia and Anthony Lee Medina as Usnavi in In The Heights. Photo by Os Galindo.


In the Heights

Music and Lyrics by: Lin Manuel Miranda

Book by: Quiara Alegeria Hudes

Directed by: Nick DeGruccio

Company: TUTS

Run dates: Through September 25, 2016



Read my review of In The Heights for Houston Press at


Hand to God – Houston Press Review

Steve Pacek as Jason in the Alley Theatre’s production of Hand to God.

Steve Pacek as Jason in the Alley Theatre’s production of Hand to God. Photo by Lynn Lane.


Hand to God

Written by: Robert Askins

Directed by: Mark Shanahan

Company: Alley Theatre

Run dates: Through September 18, 2016



Read my review of Hand to God for Houston Press at