MichaelG | Chicago Reader

Recent Reviews

Re: “Anung's First American Christmas

I would encourage Kerry Reed to attend another performance of this play with a more open mind and heart, or perhaps on an evening when she is in a "better mood" and thus feels less inclined to so thoroughly trash such a wonderfully inspiring piece of theater. I am convinced that she could not have seen nor experienced what I and my fellow theatergoers did last Friday night, and still write such a needlessly brutal review. The audience was moved back and forth between laughter and tears throughout the entire performance, and the staging was in fact inspired and engaging; as has become the norm for Vitalist Theater productions, given the relatively small stage space. Those in attendance with me agreed that this play is every bit as moving and wonderful as the earlier Vitalist productions of Mother Courage and Anna Karenina; which both received widespread, critical acclaim. I cannot judge whether Ms. Reed simply was having an "off night" when she attended and reviewed the play, or whether she has perhaps reached the point of being a bit jaded in her academic expectations that theater should be stuffy and elitist, rather than a media to be broadly enjoyed by the "common" man and woman; but her criticisms seem needlessly sharp, overblown, and even a tad "snobby" when applied to the wonderful performance that my friends and I witnessed. But after all, she is indeed the "theater expert", so the fact that I saw not a dry eye in the house at the end of Friday night's performance must mean that we commoners are too uneducated to realize that what we just witnessed had no right to move us so deeply.

In a time when so many theater productions will find it difficult to draw enough audience to even break even financially, I find it astonishing that a woman who presumably depends on theater to make her living could be so needlessly (and in my humble, "uneducated" opinion, so nastily) brutal in her criticism. Perhaps Ms. Reed believes that only big-budget, big stage, theater productions meet her elitist, academic standards? If that's the case, so much the pity, for smaller, independent theater companies like Vitalist provide opportunities and creative experimentation that big-budget production companies will never risk doing. Ms. Reed should consider whether her goal is to see only another tired, reworked version of Dickens' Christmas Carol or the like as the annual holiday theater offerings in Chicago. This production took huge creative "risks" with an unorthodox concept for the script, and a cross-cultural theme at a time of year that risks criticism from both eligious fundamentalists and the misguided, politically correct on the left, who may wrongly assume that this is a perversion of Native American culture (see Maxine & Gilda's misguided "cultural sensitivity" in earlier comments). Our society needs more of those kinds of creative risks, not less! I humbly suggest that overly harsh reviews such as the one written by Ms. Reed will over time be as silencing of such creative risk-taking as would any government ban on them; and thus ask her to reconsider if that is really the road down which she wishes to lead all her readers? I for one am in favor of praising and celebrating such creative risk-taking, and support it with my purchase of a theater ticket.

In my uneducated opinion, the script and the performance of Anung's First American Christmas are a compelling mixture of human emotions and energy that use laughter and tears to lead each of us to a stronger understanding that ultimately we are all spiritually bound to everything else by the delicate, interconnected web of life. I encourage you to go see this astonishing, entertaining piece of work with an open mind and heart, and judge for yourself the validity of Ms. Reed's needlessly sharp and ill-considered critical comments. In fact, I encourage her to see it again in a more generous frame of mind.

Posted by MichaelG on 11/23/2008 at 12:46 PM

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