On Oct. 28, 1933, 10 days after the lynching of 22-year-old George Armwood, Donald Smith published his revised version of the state’s anthem, “Maryland, My Maryland,” in the Baltimore Afro-American. “Lynchland, My Maryland” can be read as a bitter parody (“Where law has crumbled, died, and failed”) or even a violent call to arms (“Our race must now retaliate”) in the wake of two lynchings on the Eastern Shore. Andor Skotnes, in his social history A New Deal For All? (Duke University Press), gives us an idea of what Smith was responding to.
John Barry: There’s a template for criticism that a lot of us follow. You show up, watch the play, offer a summary, and explain how you can do it better. As a creative writer, did you struggle with that?
Andrea Tompa: I don’t really make decisions about how to do things better. If I could do it better, I’d do it myself. I feel that criticism to me is about dialogue. It’s a dialogue with the audience, and with the performers. It’s also a dialogue with myself. Because it’s writing, and in the process of writing you learn a lot about yourself, if you want to be able to mediate this dialogue.
JB: So it’s not about deciding whether something is worth seeing or not?
AT: Of course where I live, criticism is probably very mild compared to the criticism in the United States. [In the U.S.] it’s more black and white. You have to tell the audience to go or not to go. Criticism in Europe and Eastern Europe doesn’t assume that power – to tell the audience what to do. This is good and bad at the same time. A critic doesn’t have the power to close a show or to make it great. It’s also good, because you realize that you’re only part of the dialogue, not the only voice, delivering the final verdict. But really, I would hate to have that role. I can’t imagine how a critic can live with that power.
I reviewed a production of South Pacific that passed through Baltimore, before my review could really make any big difference. Here it is, in case you don’t get the subtext. This was South Pacific without the… I don’t know what it was without, but whatever it was, it could have used it. I hate writing reviews like this. It makes me wonder what the hell people are missing when theatre critics are sent down the tubes with all other professional writers. But then, just as this was rushing through town, I understand that somewhere across the Beltway, in DC, another production, of Oklahoma, at Arena Stage was drawing raves. Now. I didn’t see that production. But if I had seen it, I would have been able to tell people exactly what it was that was missing here. I think it’s called pizzazz.
A visit to the 2009 Golden Mask Festival in Moscow led to this article, which was itself a celebration of Russian playwrights – playwrights generally grouped under the now-somewhat-aging moniker, “New Russian Drama.” I had a great time. But I look back at the article and think that I was really catching the tail end of something. This was really New Russian Drama at the point where it starts wondering why it called itself New Russian Drama. Probably a little bit like punk rock in 1978. The big question: Is New Drama Dead? On the other hand, this was part of an effort to bring some of the promising, maturing playwrights who have sprung out of New Drama to the United States.
My article on History of Kisses, written for Maryland Theatre Guide. I don’t know how or why the editor decided that what I just wrote constituted a four-star review. I thought I’d just slammed History of Kisses. History of Kisses is what gives one-person performances a bad name. It’s meandering, bombastic, self-inflating, pseudo confessional, suggestively prudish, needy, and, well, those are harsh words. But when you’re the only guy on stage, you’re telling people you can take it.
It hasn’t been a good year for Poe’s ghost, but he has a few loyalists. Mark S. Sanders is one of them. As Poe, he spent the night of the 7th – the anniversary of Poe’s death in 1849, and the opening night of Portrait of Poe — sitting in front of the poet’s one-time abode, a tiny brick duplex located at 405 Amity Street. In the mid-1830’s, Poe lived there briefly with his aunt, who owned the place, and young wife, Virginia. What was then a wooded area now is sandwiched in a housing project. “I was sitting there on the front steps of the Poe House, dressed as Poe, at 2:30 am,” says Sanders in a brief post-show chat. The neighbors from the surrounding housing project, he adds, “were great.”
But the City Government is less so. One hundred sixty two years after Poe was found dying in a Baltimore watering hole – wearing someone else’s clothes – he may go homeless again.
From Portrait of Poe, a piece I wrote for my Baltimore Backstage column at DC Theatre Scene
When I headed down to see Anna Bella Eema…at Baltimore’s Strand Theatre, it was because a friend who rarely goes to the theatre had rushed me an email that looked like it had been ripped off a flyer: “Insanely good!!! Weird but riveting! Great acting! And you know I hate everything.”
I was sold.
From the Strand’s Jayme Kilburn takes us to the dark side of producing in Baltimore, an interview in DC Theatre Scene.