There's an old saying that goes: "those who can't do, teach". Woody Allen extended and enhanced that into a joke with the corollary: "and those who can't teach, teach gym." But what does one say about someone can't write theatre reviews? Where do they come from? More importantly, why do bad theatre reviewers exist? Gym is one thing -- a monkey can throw a ball at a bunch of adolescents and blow a whistle -- but analyzing a play and reporting on it to a local readership -- who just may have to rely on the ability of said reporter to know whether they might want to see it -- takes a little more skill than that. It does a community a disservice when a press outlet's installed theatre critic is so bad at what he does: so biased, so fickle, so research averse, and… well, just such a poor writer, that his reviews are little more than a childish blow-by-blow by a cliquish wannabe director. Who can't write.
Peter Filichia, I'm talking to you.
Peter Filichia is the NJ theatre critic for the New Jersey Star Ledger, a central Jersey newspaper with an excellent sports section, balanced editorial staff and a decent arts section. Everything happening in the arts in the NY metropolitan area is dutifully covered by the Star Ledger, and done well. Except for the plays in New Jersey. As you may imagine, New Jersey theatrical openings are generally the domain of Mr. Filichia.
Like a small gnat that occasionally buzzes in my ear at a summer barbecue, Mr. Filichia's reviews have sporadically annoyed me over the years, especially when he blows one while attempting to cover a production at the theatre where my wife works. But this latest one has me really pissed off.
You may recall my recent gushing about "Address Unknown", the latest production at GSP. A play about the horrific effects of Hitler's rhetoric and the ability of people to go along with some bad shit. Deep down, I wondered if Pete would get this one right or blow it again. He blew it.
"Too short!", says Pete. "It's annoying for them to constantly repeat the perfunctory information contained within each letter, each time the actors read a new letter". Wheah. It's called context, you butt. He mentioned how the post-performance discussion that was added for the entire run (normally only a feature during preview performances) was interesting, but surmised that it was padding the short runtime of the performance. He's right in that the talkback was interesting -- the night I was there WWII veterans and college students alike were discussing Nazis and Bush. Wait, that's the same thing. I digress. But to accuse the producers of "padding" the show with this talkback is insulting. The talkback was more stimulating than ever for this production, because the production fostered the conversation. Just another missed point in Pete's happy existence as Grand Poobah of New Jersey theatre.
It would appear that Mr. Filichia is jealous of his fellow staffers who get to go to New York City and review the larger productions there, or perhaps he just has it in for GSP or one of the artistic staff there? I think he just lacks the ability to get his head around new, straight plays. He generally does better with musicals that have been done before -- and reviewed before. Of course that didn't stop him from devoting several sentences of his previous GSP review to "warn" potential audiences on the use of blackface in the last production "Lend me a Tenor". Good job, Petey, less about the production and more about judging what is socially acceptable. Pete: we're at the theatre, not nursery school.
If "Waiting for Guffman" had a theatre critic character, Peter Filichia's sophomoric reviews would provide the same rich comedy that those awful costume sketches of Corky St. Clair's did. And Bob Balaban would be reassigned to play the role. Who would play the musical director then? Hmmm.
Those who can't do, write reviews. And those who can't write are generally bounced down to obituary features or fact checking. So what in the hell is the excuse for Peter Filichia? We'd like to know.