A review is one of the most
common forms of critical writing, and as such, it is a type of writing
which you are very likely to do outside of academic or technical
In the review you are asked
to include comments about the literary, aesthetic (acting), and
production-technical aspects of the show you see. You should assume a
general audience interested in seeing the play. However, do not
overemphasize one aspect to the slighting of the other two. Also, divide
your discussion equally between objective reporting and evaluation. Use
the standard guidelines for good composition.
Here are some of the areas of
discussion you will want to include. You do not need to give equal
attention to each area.
- Very brief synopsis
- theme (s)
- symbols* and Literary
- technical aspects - set,
lighting, sound, costuming
- audience reaction
- final comment and evaluation
- emotional impact
- overall impact (in terms of
the entire production)
- thematic impact (values
derived by viewers from this play, this production)
By objective comments, I
mean that you simply point out the facts and the details of the category
you are describing. By evaluative comments, I mean that you are
engaged in the job of reviewer, that is, you are pointing out the
strengths and weaknesses of the play in its handling of the particular
area under discussion.
*Symbol is a word or phrase or
image that stands for a larger ides. It is customary to divide symbols
into three types--natural, conventional, and private.
A natural symbol is a word or image that suggests
its larger meaning to the reader without the reader having to be
instructed in that meaning. The image of a journey, to stand for life,
may be a natural symbol.
A conventional symbol is an image that has, by
tradition and by certain people in the course of time and in a limited
space, been assigned a meaning beyond itself. The cross or star of David
could be considered conventional symbols.
Finally, a private symbol is one that one author,
or perhaps a small group of writers or artists, has made for his or her
own purposes. The scissors in Kafka's story "Jackals and Arabs"
is a private symbol.
Sample Play Reviews and a Letter
( written by
More Poetry Than History
-- Mark Wood
If Aristotle was correct when
he said that poetry "is a higher thing than history," then
"Royal Gambit," which opened Friday night at Pentacle Theater,
is, I suppose, on the right track.
For those who were expecting a
representational treatment of the life of England's Henry VIII,
"Royal Gambit" was a shock, if not a disappointment. Those who
sought poetry got it, although of a very dogmatic and simplistic
This unusual, highly
presentational play by Hermann Gressieker, directed by Ed Classen, is an
indictment of modern man as a ruthless opportunist. The Tudor king is a
representative of a rationalizing, shifty society which has become
"superior to the highest" while "wallowing in the
As Henry uses the banners of
"reason" and "humanism" to obtain the dispose of his six
wives, so modern man uses them for his own pleasure and glorification,
uses them to wage war in the name of peace, to hate in the name of
Such is the grim theme
pleasingly presented by a company of seven actors, who performed their
roles energetically, if unevenly. The presentational acting style
employed here is difficult to perfect. It should be theatrical, yet
believable; aimed at the head, yet acceptable to the heart.
Louise Larsen was a standout as
Catherine of Aragon, Largely because she utilized this presentational
approach and was not afraid of open theatricality. Her flamboyant stage
presence, which needed to be toned down in her recent role in "Last
of the Red Hot Lovers," found full vent here.
Henry's fourth wife, Anne of
Cleves, was portrayed by Gale Rieder, who quickly became an audience
favorite. Her thick accent was letter-perfect and her direct humor was a
welcome contrast to the bitter satire of the rest of the play.
The other four actresses--Kathy
Stratton, Marcia Engblom, Polly Bond and Patricia Sloan--each had their
exceptional moments. However, they generally seemed tied to more
conventional, representational acting styles.
Ron Fox was superb in the role
of Henry. Tuxedoed, leering with the look of a demonic marionette, the
vacant stare of a deranged orator, Fox dominated the stage fully,
commanding both in voice and stage presence.
The technical elements of the
play were more than adequate. Musical accompaniment was appropriately
sparse and simple.
At one point the play, King
Henry roared, "In my realm I decide what constitutes tragedy!"
Ironically, Gressieker strips modern man not only of his possibilities as
a tragic figure worthy of any sympathies at all. In the final moments of the
play, Catherine of Aragon announces the death of modern man and the birth
of a new era. It is a scene of great hope, but it is not as profound as
her earlier pronouncement to her husband that "the ways of the world
are not so cut and dried!"
For my own part, I wish that
"Royal Gambit's" statement were not so cut and dried. By making
man out to be such a simple monster the play defeats its own purposes and
turns poetry into scathing dogma, which is probably even less interesting
than, say, history.
Mark Wood's review of the
Pentacle show Royal Gambit was one of the best I have read in a Salem
paper. It was just, literate, and highly readable.
As an actress, I have played
several roles in Pentacle productions, and I have always found the
backstage consensus to be the same about reviews: they tend not to be
reviews, but recapitulations of the story-line and characters (not the
actors' performances, but the people they play).
While Wood did not neglect
these aspects, his remarkably literate review involved a more
theatrically oriented viewpoint.
Honest, evaluative comments
such as Wood made regarding script-writing techniques and their
effectiveness, the actor's work, and the general mise-en-scene are much
to be commended.
With this kind of review
available to us, I can see potential for great improvements in the
quality of Salem production in general. Exposed to evaluation of all the
aspects of a show--literary, esthetic, and productional/technical--it
will be possible for audiences to become more discriminating. Also, the
actors will work harder to give stronger, more professional performances.
These two things will combine to upgrade the quality of any Salem
cultural endeavor--and the quality is already fairly high.
Thank you for this review by a
"student of the theater"--may we hear more from him!
Review of KING LEAR, performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival -- Julie
The opening scene of King
Lear greets the audience with what appears to be a traditional king with
his traditional kingdom, complete with three beautiful daughters and
loyal servants. But tragedy brews in the air as the audience is led to a
The aging King Lear, played by
Dennis Arndt. plans to divide his realm among his three daughters. The
one catch to this division shapes the theme of the play; the daughters
must each declare the potency of their love for their father. The two
eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, played by Carla Spindt and Joan
Stuart-Morris respectively, play the game accordingly and declare that
their love for the King out weighs even life itself. The youngest,
Cordelia, played by Gloria Beigler, refuses to speak something that isn't
true, and sparks a ruthless rage within the King, who promptly banishes
From this point on, the play
descends into a devastating sequence of events that strips the once
almighty King of his power and turns him into a madman. Dennis Arndt does
an excellent job in portraying this transformation and I found myself
repeatedly wanting to rush down and comfort him in his madness and
Most of the other characters
played their parts equally well, but there were only a few who really
stood apart. The ruthless bastard son to the Earl of Gloucester, Edmund,
played by John David Castellanos, went to great lengths seeking land that
was rightfully his. His energy level was exceptional for the spiteful
character which he portrayed.
Edmund's father, Gloucester,
was a bit ambiguous, He seemed too innocent and naive to be totally
convincing. William MeKereghan as Gloucester, played a sorrow ful father
who had been swindled by Edmund and had cast out "legitimate"
son Edgar. Douglas Markkanen as Edgar does will in portraying a
"lunatic out o'benlam."
On the brighter side, Cordelia
seems to be a sort of backbone to the play, with just the right amount of
simplicity. She becomes a favorite of the audience because she represents
hope, truth and goodness; the only glimmer of light at the end of a dark
kummel of madness.
However, her two sisters, Regan
and Goneril, take on the appearance of Cinderella's ugly step-sisters.
Both play their parts effectively and they succeed in drawing hatred and
disgust from the audience.
The technical elements of the
play went right along with its grim theme. The moving monoliths and hard
bare floors symbolized the feeling of doom and tragedy. The dim lighting
that gave way to darkness also carried the nature theme. In the storm
scene where Liar descends into his madness, the sound effects were especially
Although much of the scenery
symbolizes tragedy, it comes up shout in terms of portraying a kingdom.
The only ones who fit the "royal parts" were Regan and Goneril.
The rest consisted of leather and hide - this is probably because the
feeling of nature and natural elements, such as hides, are more prevalent
in Shakespeare, especially in a tragedy such as Lear, than gaudy jewels
and silk robes.
The overall impact of the play
was dark and tragic, just as Shakespeare had intended. The theme that
"honesty is the best policy" was carried out effectively as the
audience witnessed the trap that Lear fell into because of the dishonesty
of those that he loved, and the distortion of his perceptions of