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This Is Not A Review

August 22, 2007

When companies put on workshop productions of plays, they try to keep reviewers away. Well, they're quite happy for critics to come and see productions (they'll frequently even give us press tickets) but they don't want to see commentary on these shows in print.

This attitude is understandable. A workshop production is, by definition, a work in progress. It's unripe. The artists are still finding their way through the material and many things will change before the show, a shy debutante, is ready for its coming out party.

On the other hand, audience feedback during the development process can be a useful thing for a show's producers. Joan Rivers obviously thinks this is the case. After each performance during the workshop run of her new show, The Joan Rivers Theater Project, she comes out to hear audience comments about the production. I'd be interested to know how much of this feedback makes its way into the performance.

I guess there's a bit of a difference between casually obtaining feedback from a (mostly) sympathetic audience than seeing your work picked apart by a professional critic in the pages of a newspaper or magazine or on a blog. Once those words are out there in black and white, there's no taking them back. To review the production at this stage would be to betray the Magic Theatre's trust. We have a compact. I won't break it. So I'm not going to share my thoughts about Rivers' show in print.

However, what I can do without incurring the wrath of the Magic Theater and Rivers' crew is write about the experience of attending the theatre last night. It was a strange evening in some ways.

On the up side: the theatre was refreshingly packed with people who were under 40. These days, most of the Magic's audience is older. The theatregoers were a lively, well-dressed, and, unsurprisingly, mostly gay male crowd. They responded loudly to the performance, sometimes calling stuff out in the middle of the show. They laughed, clapped and cheered a lot. The atmosphere was buoyant. They were completely enthralled by being so close to their icon. I hope some of the people who attended the Magic for the first time last night might xonsider checking out the company's upcoming shows. The Magic has an excellent season planned. I also really appreciated being able to bring drinks and snacks into the theatre with me. I don't remember being allowed to do this at the Magic in the past. This helps create a more casual, fun atmosphere. It means people don't have to swallow their drinks before taking their seats.

On the down side: the room dripped with the sycophantic. I couldn't bare to stay for the Q&A session at the end because I couldn't listen to the "we love you Joan" and "I just wanna say how much I admire you"-type comments that would no doubt have formed the backbone of the feedback. And from a crowd like this, I wonder if the feedback is any use? I suppose I should have stayed, just to see if anyone would dare to say anything critical.

On the neither-up-nor-down side: the production is apparently being sponsored by Energy 92.7 FM "Pure Dance" Radio. Seems like a strange combo, but I guess the linking factor between this electronic pop station and Rivers is the gay crowd. Sitting in the Magic Cafe amidst a sea of neon-colored Energy publicity materials and blaring electronic music made me feel like I was in a Marina sports bar on a Saturday night. Still, the radio hosts' short presentation at the start of the show had a galvanizing effect on the crowd (they announced a competition in which listeners who tune into an interview with Rivers could win a free iPod Nano.)

It'll be interesting to see how Rivers' show develops. I expect it will change quite a lot between now and when it opens in New York. If one thing remains consistent throughout, it'll be the audience.

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