Reina accepts a handkerchief of overly farcial acting from Sergius
Sonja Field as Raina and Christopher Burke as Sergius. Photo credit Shawn May.

So the other day I got my first paid article of 2013 posted on’s Art Attack . . . about Quintessence’s production of GBS’ Arms and the Man. So many things came together here, resulting in me picking up Michael Holroyd’s massive, four-volume biography of Shaw.

This article is the first critical one I’ve published in a while—I haven’t been this against a piece I wrote about, probably ever—and the reaction has been exciting. I’ve gotten more comments on this than any other piece not on my own blog, and was even called a “LIAR”—in all caps, just like that.

One thing I actually deserved to get in trouble for on this article was for saying that few companies in Philly are daring, or willing to portray people as the ugly, problematic, aggressive, cruel things they can sometimes be. While I wasn’t “lying” as was suggested, I was maybe a bit incautious here.

A desideratum is something lacked, wanted or needed.

He had money, friends, a constant stream of productive activities, and had even constructed for himself a kind of legacy; the only desideratum of his life was love. We as a culture have money, good intentions, opportunity, and aptitude; the only desideratum of our efforts is understanding.

There are many artists in Philadelphia who produce intriguing experimental work. This is where our strength lies, and I’m glad to see it. I wonder if most people haven’t seen enough down-and-dirty thoughtful classic productions to even understand that something like Arms and the Man misses the point.

I wonder, too, if our theatergoers expect to leave the theater with thoughts, arguments, and even outcries.

Reconditeadj: 1. not easily understood, abtruse
2. hidden, concealed, little known

One recondite statement in his article made the whole thing ambiguous. She enjoyed reading the blog about recondite words, so much so that she told all of her friends to read it.

I certainly don’t want to suggest that any classic production should tether itself to the author or even the author’s intentions; Shaw says in his prefaces to BTM (I don’t have the exact quote at the moment) that the author’s interpretation of the work is not always the truest or most useful one. Any production company must put their own spin on a piece, sometimes even making it unrecognizable from its original appearance. An uncareful reading of my article might conclude that I disagree.

Conga line, anyone?
The BWay SBoro Boys – jazz hands!

What I take issue with is the improper use of a text. If you use a scissors to hammer a nail in you risk stabbing yourself in the head; similarly, producing The Laramie Project as a rollicking comedy would be disastrous. If you’re going make Arms and the Man a farce you had better have a really good reason to do so, beside selling more tickets.

Odd twistings of purpose can be of use. The recent Broadway show The Scottsboro Boys, about a group of black men in 1931 who are accused of a gang rape they did not commit, uses blackface, minstrel shows, and reductive, stereotypical portraits of blacks in order to explore the racism which is an inescapable part of our history.

But I am decidedly against any twisting which reduces a work and discourages thoughtfulness. It is particularly dangerous to do this with a revolutionary artist.

Ad hominem is another latinate phrase; it refers to an argument which is made not against an idea but against the person who presents or represents it. In other words, every political debate you’ve ever seen by actual politicians is a brilliant and numbingly ignorant example of ad hominem argumentation.

They don't have the same glamour as their BWay counterparts . . .
The ‘storical SBoro Boys. They’re being advised by their lawyer here . . . who will eventually get some of them out of jail