Monday, June 7, 2010

Johnny Baseball: Homo-what?who?where?

We've all read them. Reviews by a writer who can't understand the enthusiastic response an audience gives a show, a performer, a moment. Often there's a 'maybe it's just me' disclaimer, acknowledging this rapt or elated response elicited from others. And sometimes the review will pan the experience unfairly, deterring some from even going, and causing others to wonder, "What show is she/he talking about?"
But what does one do when a critic calls a show out for something that, on careful examination through multiple viewings with a fixed focus, isn't even there?
The reviews for "Johnny Baseball" are in, and the show is off and running, with quotes like "cleverly crafted and terrifically performed ... Helmer Diane Paulus hits a clean line drive straight into center field with a thoughtful, crowd-pleasing and deftly balanced show" (Variety). I've agreed and disagreed with this or that, but nothing confounded me like a comment in the Boston Globe.
In her "Johnny Baseball" review, critic Louise Kennedy wrote: "Ultimately, “Johnny Baseball’’ wants to teach a small part of a familiar lesson — we should all learn to get along, and people should be free to love whom they please — within a feel-good musical. Given the theme, it’s just wrong that some of the show’s jokes are cheaply homophobic, but that’s the only even remotely political remark that could be made about a show that celebrates baseball, multiculturalism, and the American way."
(Cue the "Excuuuuuuuuse me?" voice-over tape).
As I said, I've seen the show three times now, once before reading that review, and twice since.
To put it plainly, what show is she talking about?
I was hesitant to even reprint her comment, but though the Globe readership dwarfs an audience I might reach, I couldn't feel this way and not express it.
For example, about a dozen or so years ago, I helped cast a reading of a freshman screenplay for an up and coming writer. It was set in a Boston Irish inner city neighborhood, and I found the undercurrent of unaddressed homophobia to be an issue I had to bring up. Unfortunately, I was met by a very deaf ear. Instead of listening and discussing the problem I had with it, I was told I was wrong, that's how these guys are, sorry you feel that way, goodbye.
When it's there, I see it and I say it.
But in the case of the Globe review, I just don't see it.
In the comments that follow the review online, there are a few readers who question the remark. One of them, "btmitch", said it best:
"I saw this show on Friday, and like some other people, I didn't notice anything "homophobic." In fact, I thought the whole "it's legal in this state" discussion was a pretty clear reference to other marriages that are legal in this state."

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