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The Daily Tar Heel

Reviewer Experiences Theater On the Other Side of the Stage

One could say the same of reviewers in newspapers. I should know -- I am one.

I'd like to think my bitching always has been fair and just. Just as those teachers have an obligation to keep their pupils' parents happy, artists must entertain me, singing and dancing as I see fit like so many fleshy marionettes, schmoozing with me at galas and flirting with me and/or my date.

Otherwise they get panned.

This policy always seemed reasonable. Until now. Now, I'm starting to take the reviewer's role more seriously, because I'm on the other side of the proverbial proscenium -- acting in Company Carolina's current production of "Arcadia." I play the role of Valentine Coverly, an English mathematician.

Monday, this paper reviewed the show (positively, my director would have you know). My involvement with the play allowed me new levels of insight into the reviewing process and what's lacking in many theater reviews.

Namely: eagle-eyed criticism of the performances of non-human participants. Case in point: my show.

Although actors are usually easy, it's not easy to act. Perhaps you've read about "actors' instincts." These visceral compulsions lead actors, in performance, to innovate and do things they've never done in rehearsals.

In Friday's show, for instance, I kissed my character's live pet box turtle Lightning, played by Chapel Hill's own Red the Turtle, full on the beak. This was an impromptu flourish, like when the great Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, scornfully shot the enemy swordsman in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Also, the kiss proved deeply satisfying in a way I simply can't articulate.

But as I leaned into his shell-covered body, Red realized my intent, and, for a brief moment, he "broke character."

His body language no longer seemed like that of Lightning, box turtle pet of an English mathematician; the audience could tell he was, in that instant, Red, aspiring thespian and frightened heterosexual male reptile.

It was a telling moment in the show, and in my post-pubescent psychosexual development, but this newspaper's review never mentioned it.

Perhaps the reviewer didn't want to hurt Red. By and large, reviewers don't enjoy writing scathing reviews. When I pan a movie, I feel like the switch-wielding father who whispers "This is going to hurt me a lot more than it does you."

Even then, it takes a certain level of conceit to feel this pained parental responsibility. If I'm not the legal guardian of "Shadow of the Vampire," who am I to chastise Willem Dafoe or determine his morning curfew?

So I'm always hesitant to give a bad review, but of course that's my job, so, reluctantly, I trash it.

Now, though, I understand the necessity of telling shitty actors that they suck. If a shitty actor, such as Red, is not informed of his shittiness, his performance will not improve.

Since that review was published, making no mention of Red's character-breaking, he's been sloppy. Wednesday, he ate part of a strawberry backstage between scenes, even though we clearly decided during character work that Lightning suffered from anorexia nervosa due to childhood trauma.

Robert De Niro would not have eaten that strawberry because Robert De Niro's reviewers would note this lack of dedication in their reviews.

As newspapers are "the watchdogs of the government," reviewers must strive to be "the watchdogs of the turtles."

Jeremy Hurtz can be reached at

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