It’s been a long time since I was this bothered by a review.
I long ago came to many conclusions about critics and reviews and their place in the arts ecosystem. I’ve been reviewed many times. I’ve written many reviews. I believe that without arts writers and reviewers arts communities tend to struggle. I don’t advocate responding to reviews of your work. I think you’re never as good as they say you are nor are you as bad as they say you are. I know that most reviews aren’t written for the artist, but for the reviewer’s reading public. I believe in the general service of most criticism so much there is an entire category dedicated to it on this blog.
And yet. . . I am bothered by a review. However, that review isn’t of MY work, and if I am *this* bothered, perhaps a rebuttal is in order.
Rick Bentley’s Fresno Beehive review of “Daddy Issues” by Peter Aguero not only misses the point of that show, misunderstands the style and delivery of that performance, and attempts to demean the performer, but by implication demeans many independent performers that frequent Fringe festivals or perform personal solo shows.
Personal narratives are the bread and butter of the solo fringe show. There are no fewer than 14 in this year’s Rogue Festival alone. The personal narrative format has an unearned reputation as some sort of self-indulgent narcissism delivered by hacks who “can’t read or act or write worth a damn.”
This is not the case with “Daddy Issues”. In the performance I witnessed, a room of 60 people sat still and quiet as they listened to the strands of one man’s memories, delivered with little but emotional vowels and sense-laden consonants, intertwine into a buoyant and satisfying ending. So entranced were they that when Aguero mentioned that he’d gone over his time, the audience urged him to finish, so happy were they to stay and listen more.
Bentley, however, starts out with his unerring ear for snark. One line: “Clever.” By the use of which he draws attention to his own cleverness. He then goes on to accuse Aguero of using his show as a form of personal therapy, which implies that the performance is a form of masturbatory theater with no artistry or craft to draw in the audience (which it definitely is not). He says Aguero is clever to get paid for his “therapy” rather than paying for it with his own money like everyone else does. The line almost sounds resentful.
The reviewer also takes issue with Aguero’s use of a few fictionalized memories saying that they undermine his credibility. But Aguero specifically cites how memories shapeshift as one replays them over and over again. This is also a very common element of the personal narrative show, the way in which our imaginations can heighten and alter memories in order to find meaning in them and to create meaning for the audience. The memory Bentley cites is one where Aguero repeats a story – with embellishment – to his first audience: some other boys at school. That was the moment he became a storyteller.
I could go on and on into every thread that Aguero spins, picks up, and weaves into the story of how he became who he is, the parts he created for himself and the parts he inherited, for better or worse. But the point is, Bentley didn’t pick up those threads.
And okay, that happens sometimes with reviewers. They’re not in a place to be receptive. They don’t care for the style of delivery, which has less theatricality and more emphasis on the size and shape of the words spoken. The genre isn’t for them. They couldn’t get on board. It happens.
But the way in which Bentley insinuates that Aguero sounds underprepared and is using the audience for some form of one-sided therapy, is far more unappealing than anything he can say about “Daddy Issues.”.
In fact, the most eviscerating moment in the review is one that I believe was below the belt. When Bentley uses Aguero’s father’s words against him, equating his father’s rejection with Bentley’s critical rejection. . . that’s a low blow.
Good criticism – even when the review is negative – depends on there being an element of good faith and respect between the reviewer and the reviewed. Aguero extended that to Bentley, just as he extended it the audience I was in. But Bentley blew right past it.
And in doing so, he reinforced a lot of unwarranted stereotypes of the solo or personal narrative performers in this world. None of them at the Rogue Festival deserve that. They deserve to be taken as seriously as any filmmaker, television writer, or author. They work hard at their craft and they’ve got some deeply engaging experiences to share.