Writing a critique is easier than you think. All you need to do is to ask all the right questions. By Kaye Langit-Luistro
Your classmates are abuzz with eagerness about an upcoming play. Your teacher wanted you to watch it and write a critique afterwards. You protested but to no avail. Hey, stop pouting! Don’t let this assignment, rob the joy out of watching. Make a decision to enjoy it no matter what. And believe me, you can!
Just look for the following elements, and ask yourself these questions to help you write an informative and insightful critique.
The Characters. They refer to the roles, actors play. And to fully understand them, you must answer the following questions honestly, according to Eric W. Trumbull, writer and professor of theatre arts.
• Are the characters clearly defined? Are they realistic or symbolic? Can you remember people from real life who act, think and talk the way they do? Or maybe the characters symbolize the downfall of aristocracy like in the play “Larawan” an adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Filipino Artist.”
• Which characters are in conflict? How do minor characters talk to and treat the major ones? Do they react in the same manner (mirror images), complete opposites (contrasts) or having the same tendency and aspiration in life (parallels)?
The Plot. Characters bring life to the story through their actions and dialogue. For starters, describe and analyze the content and plot structure of the play, Trumbull writes, by asking these:
• Is it serious or comic? If serious, is it tragic or more down-to-earth? If comic, is it plain comedy or farcical. Is the play realistic, meaning the characters and dialogue mirror everyday life? For instance the play “Leona” by Ruth Mabanglo is realistic because it showed the main character’s faith, sacrifices and sufferings, which are familiar to us all. Or is it fantastic, because certain scenes can only happen in our imagination, just like in the Trumpets production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” based on a best-selling novel by C.S. Lewis? Animals talking and dancing are really out-of-this world, but still very entertaining, right?
The Themes. They make the plot interesting and full of zesty twists. How do they do that? To find out, think about these:
• What is the play about? Is it easy to understand or not?
• Does the play show the theme clearly through the acting, dialogue, and set design?
The Acting of the Characters. We can’t help it if some performers steal our hearts and others don’t. To find out why you really like some, and dislike others, Trumbull prompts us to answer these:
• How was the performer's voice, movement, interpretation of the role?
• How did the performers interact with one another? Did they listen and respond naturally, or did they look like they were "acting?"
The Directing. The director is like a pastry chef. He makes sure that all the right ingredients are mixed, baked and arranged properly. Ponder on these questions to find out if everything was set in the right temperature.
• Are entrances, exits and scene changes smooth?
• Is the stage space used well or were there some areas ignored?
• Does the pace and rhythm seem right? Does it drag or move swiftly?
The Set Design, Lights and Costume. These things are like spices sprinkled on dishes. They are meant to enhance the flavor but never to stand out by themselves, or do they?
• Are all actors properly lit, meaning can we see their faces while they were speaking? Was the light used to symbolize something? In the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, directed by Tony Mabesa for Dulaang UP’s 15th season, lights were used to create a prison cell onstage. This way, there were less props to handle, thus making the play more fast-paced.
• Do the costumes express the individual characters’ personality, station in life, and occupation accurately? For example in the one-man show “Rabindranath Tagore,” performed by versatile actor Robin Ramsay here in the Philippines in 1990, he expressed Tagore’s life as a young man by wearing an elegant robe, while he put on Indian shoes, as a sign that he was shifting characters, from the young Tagore to the old one.
Now, all you need to do is answer these questions in brief and concise sentences. Don’t forget to mention the title, director and cast in your heading. From the start, grab the reader’s interest by quoting a few lines from the play, and maybe you can also share how you felt when they were spoken. Happy writing!
It’s Your Turn
What is Your Theatre Viewing Quotient?
Since you are about to watch a play, you need to discover some things to help you make the most out of this new experience. Take this pop quiz, and find out how well you adjust to theatre norms. Answer yes or no to the following statements:
1. I agree that I should not talk with my friend while the play is running.
2. I take down notes silently when I watch the play in progress.
3. I will not make fun of the play’s mistakes.
4. I am not ashamed to give a standing ovation if the play is really fantastic.
5. I know that the cast worked hard that’s why I won’t hesitate to applaud them if permitted.
• If you’ve answered mostly yes, there’s no doubt you are a genius! You won’t have a hard time adjusting to theatre norms at all.
• If you’ve answered mostly no, your viewing quotient is below average. Chances are, you are likely to offend a fellow theatre-goer or even the production people, by your lack of decorum. Don’t despair. Just give yourself time to adjust by watching more plays, whenever you can.
Eric W. Trumbull. Introduction to Theatre Online Course.
Personal Notes from Art Studies 104 (Performing Arts), Humanities Department, UP Diliman.
Langit, Ma. Catherine. A Critique: Tagore and Leona. In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of AS 104, September 1, 1990.
Langit, Ma. Catherine. A Critique: M. Butterfly. In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of AS 104, September 17, 1990.
Footnote: This article was published in Magica, a High School learning reference material of Diwa Publishing Group in 2005.