The critic’s creed states: Do not review a preview. It’s like testing a restaurant on opening day—there’s too much up in the air, too many new waiters running around. Things are going to change, so what’s the point?
But what happens when you see something that’s so astoundingly awful, you feel it’s your duty to mention it? As a freelancer for our sister publication Portland Monthly, longtime New York Times arts critic Claudia La Rocco reviewed Dayna Hanson’s dance-theater work-in-progress Gloria’s Cause at Portland’s TBA festival in September and stated, categorically, that she hated it. “Really hated it.” This “hot mess of a production”—an experimental rock musical exploring characters from the Revolutionary War—“took on sweeping American historical and political themes and did very little with them. It was classic kitchen-sink art: throw everything up and see what sticks. Put quotation marks around everything that doesn’t.”
Ouch. La Rocco admitted she didn’t have much of a right reviewing a preview, and her comments actually started an interesting blogosphere conversation with Lane Czaplinski, artistic director of Seattle’s On the Boards, who commissioned Hanson’s piece for a world premiere this weekend (at OtB through December 5). “How will artists ever be able to create works that play larger spaces and tackle complex subjects if they’re always being shamed into stripping away devices, clarifying every single intention and reducing show length to the same tightly wound sausage?” he wrote.
So I felt it my duty to ask Hanson: Had she been shamed? Did she even give a hot damn what critics said? Short answer: Not really. “That was the point [of being at TBA]: to test out some ideas and see what resonated with people and what didn’t,” she said earlier this week. “It hasn’t been easy. But that’s okay, it’s not supposed to be.”
In the process of making Gloria’s Cause, Hanson and colleagues Peggy Piacenza (cofounder of 33 Fainting Spells) and David Proscia researched the American Revolution for a year and a half: traveling to North Carolina to talk to war historians, reading 1776. They wanted to address the “cognitive dissonance” of celebrating our freedom-fighting forefathers and ignoring the liberties (gay marriage in particular) we’re still without. Nine performers would sing a little, dance a little, and maybe play a guitar or two. “We have a lot of music and a few moments that feel musical theater-y, but it’s very nonlinear and very experimental,” Hanson said.
It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on.
But since the preview in Portland, things have changed. Hanson has taken on more of a director’s role and cut characters to “present a more focused view.” (Here are a few characters who survived.) “Anyone who saw the piece in Portland will see the thread, but it’s pretty dramatically different now.” Someone call Claudia La Rocco—there’s a new performance to review.
What did I think of the show? Check back on Sunday for my review. Gloria’s Cause runs through Dec 4 at On the Boards.
UPDATED 12/5/10. The talent was there—strong choreography, great music, multidisciplinary cast members who would dance in one scene and play the drums in the next. It was even kind of funny. But the message was lost in a jumble of episodic pieces—and more than a few audience members left mumbling that they had no idea what had just happened. Lots of potential, but it needed a writer’s touch.