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A playwright’s ‘humble opinion’

May 15, 2014

Playwrights are cautioned to avoid commenting on bad newspaper reviews since the rule is not to challenge people who order their ink in 55-gallon drums. But there are exceptions and this is one of them. I refer to Jonathan Fox’s review of my play “HolyHolyHoly,” recently presented at the Rivoli Theatre in South Fallsburg, NY.

I make but four points so as to save ink.

Reviewer Fox explains that he is “confused and befuddled, unsure of the message that Duncan wanted to convey.” Mr. Fox’s befuddlement makes sense since Duncan didn’t write to “convey a message.” Serious plays exist to provoke thought and examine ideas; they do not provide answers or send messages. Plays are stories, not screeds. It’s a shame Mr. Fox missed the distinction, which is at the heart of the theatrical experience.

Through three years of development, no reader or viewer groused about the time changes in “HolyHolyHoly.” Miss Flora was specifically designed to provide clear explanations (with humor) and the selected music pointed to the time shifts. Maybe the TRR reviewer was distracted by dog Dharma for some reason.

Mr. Fox, while singling out several cast members for honorable mention, missed Darren Fouse’s outstanding performance, Albee Bockman’s riveting portrayal and Ellen Pavloff’s moving interpretation of Brenda. I find that amazing. The standing ovation HHH received at the conclusion of Saturday night’s show was for its ensemble playing. It was when the cast took its bow together that the audience erupted and stood to applaud an incredible cast, one that counts among them over 200 productions.

Finally we are told by reviewer Fox that “HolyHolyHoly” is “overwritten and under-directed, in need of some editing and a keener eye for detail.” He also says HHH is “interesting,” “has merit,” “has really good moments” and is “a worthy play.” Through these descriptions, positive and negative, he offers no example to illustrate his Olympian opining. Serious readers will notice such reviews as superficial. Those who know theatre will see them as written by a lazy man.

Bill Duncan
Woodbourne, NY

[Editor’s note: On a personal note, as someone who works with Jonathan Fox every day, the last thing anyone could call him is lazy. The River Reporter is proud to have this hard-working writer as our entertainment reporter, who offers his reviews as his “humble opinion.”]