Critic Spotlight: March 2022
Primary Outlet: The New Journal and Guide
Basics first: where do you work (do reviews) and how long have you been there?
I have written theater criticism and feature stories, off and on, for The New Journal and Guide, the third oldest African American newspaper in the U.S., since the mid-1980s. I have also done same for The Virginian-Pilot, the major daily serving metropolitan Hampton Road, Virginia.
What is your background in theater and/or criticism?
In addition to the theater criticism and feature stories I have published, I have authored more than 20 plays for the stage, produced in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Hampton Roads, and Las Vegas; produced and/or directed more than 50 productions for the stage and television; appeared in innumerable stage and network television productions; written, produced, and hosted the television talk shows “BioRhythms” and “HealthWatch” — the latter for 16 years for Hampton Roads PBS affiliate WHRO-TV.
What led you to become a critic?
I believe that there is a clear distinction between the more commercially motivated theater reviewer and a theater critic whose mission is to render objective criticism that addresses readers, cast, production company, and crew. Also, scrutinizing a production with a critical eye helps me to hone my own skills.
Do you have any particular philosophy about criticism that guides you?
Being committed to a wholly objective eye, especially what level of verisimilitude is achieved, the truth in characterization, which provides some commentary on the director’s approach, the cast, scenic design, costumes, etc.
What are some things you look for in a play?
Whether serious drama or comedy, I look for the truth in the actor’s delivery and wholesale commitment to character. I also look to discern if the director has an invisible and not laborious hand in navigating the actor’s path. I also look for picturization, how actors are placed on stage and how the director has used the proscenium arch, if applicable, as somewhat of a picture frame, and the entire production bringing the play to life. Of course, the scenic design and costumes play a critical role as well.
Tell me about a specific play that you found either overwhelmingly good or seriously problematic. Is it easier to write good or bad reviews?
This review of the Norfolk State University production of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” touches upon something good and bad in a production.. It was a bit rough around the edges throughout, yet ultimately proved to be a stellar offering.
Whether a production is ridded with imperfections or flawless, it doesn’t impact the ease or challenge in which I treat my critique. I always look for something positive I can share in which I can package my perspective overall. My criticism is designed to enlighten audience, cast, company, and crew alike.
We’re all just emerging from the pandemic shutdown. Have you noticed anything different (aside from the masks)?
Regrettably, I have not reviewed a production during the pandemic.
Tell me something about you and/or your work that doesn’t fit under any of the other questions.
I have had a number of mentors who have done much to assist me in embarking upon and navigating my course as a dedicated, impassioned thespian. The two that come chiefly to mind are late actor-director-producer and former president of the Norfolk Players Guild Albert Dinkins and actor-director-producer and author Vladimir Chernozemsky. Under their tutelage, I have learned to sculpt my creative pursuits, especially my writing, with clarity, tenacity, and efficient character construct to communicate with the reader in print, stage, and screen.
Please link one or two reviews/articles about which you feel proud.
February 8, 2018 in New Journal and Guide: “A Tradition of Costuming Superheroes“
March 17, 2016 in New Journal and Guide: “Virginia Stage Company’s Grounded“
— Questions submitted by Karen Topham, lightly edited by Martha Wade Steketee.