It seems that too often lately these blogs are prefaced by saying that they will be short. This one I'm afraid is no exception. I am running out the door for a day of advertising, lunches, and rehearsals. We also have our donor holiday party on Thursday and I am trying to find where I have mislaid my piano skills. All that said, I did want to write a bit of a response to the Ionarts review of "Messiah" and the controversy that arose since.
I know, I know....never reply to a review. This should be no exception, but self control has never been my forte:
First the title "The M-word...S & M". This is fun for some I suppose. Would that it were an accurate representation of the show it would warrant praise for its wit, even if the rest of the article provided a rounded and representative overview of the show...but alas no. This reviewer, as do many of the other contributors to the debate, makes AOT's "Messiah" sound like an "s & m sex fest". The review even says that the angel (I'm trying not to be a spoiler, really) is “ravaged” and that she wears a “skin-tight” outfit. All of this, I must be frank, is blatantly untrue. I don't want to say that the reviewer lied, but... More disturbing is that the review fails to mention the rest of the show (which does beg the question as to whether the reviewer stayed through the entire piece). The violence in this piece is indicated by the text. It is a necessary part of the story and, with that in mind, it is in fact quite a small part of the whole picture. This violence is the pathway to redemption and this reviewer in his overview (for it was much more overview than review) he stops short, giving the reader the impression that violence is the overriding aesthetic of the piece.
I read Ionarts daily. I think it serves admirably a great mission in the DC area. I must gush and say that I love this blog. I also believe that reviewers can write what they please. And, I encourage the audience to take from each performance whatever they will. That said, the reviewer has a responsibility to his readers to present a fair picture of what they will experience upon attending the show or concert being reviewed. Though I definitely question this reviewers abilities in judging the voice (based on this and other reviews), that is subjective opinion and I can only grumble that Ionarts certainly has reviewers with better ears. This production, to any observer, contained violence (sexual or not) in an isolated way where indicated by the text. It was tempered by a clear larger message (to which the entire third part was dedicated). Journalistic integrity should have compelled this reviewer to understand the power of his media and to present a comprehensive, even if critical, review.
As to the sexual side of things...I do encourage the audience to take whatever they will from these performances. It was, however, completely clear that no sexual inuendo was intended by the staging. I think that because our victim is a woman, in certain minds that violence automatically takes on a sexual color. It would be disingenuous of me to encourage free interpretation and then to be upset that some audience members interpreted a sexual overtone. My only complaint is that this review made it sound that the sexuality was overt. He intentionally exaggerated what was at most a scene open to multiple interpretations, and made it sound as if the sexual violence was clear and unavoidable. His use of "ravaged" has a very precise meaning and was obviously not what happened on the stage. This scene might have elicited sexual thoughts for some people. I insist that this has more to do with what is going on in the audience's heads than what is going on on the stage. I also think that this is absolutely fine. It is perfectly understandable why violence against women could be read as sexual. It often is, and the media that surrounds us often depicts it as such. Making that connection does not say anything unhealthy or unnatural. Still, since the staging in this production clearly did not imply sexual violence, and since the angel in our production is "broken with a rod of iron" and not "ravaged" in any way, I feel this reviewer perverted the truth to come up with a cute title and self-aggrandizing article.
Be critical, that is your job. But don't be so at the cost of presenting a true reflection of what you saw. That is also your job. Simply having a musical background is not sufficient to be a critic. Criticism is an art and a skill. Only the most innately talented individuals should practice it without some study of journalism, writing, or at the very least journalistic ethics. It does a disservice to the entire profession, and is no doubt part of why arts criticism is languishing in the United States. It is most important to recognize that what one writes in the public forum has real consequences, and that is why the reviewer has a responsibility to be accurate and fair.