Friday, November 21, 2008

RIP, Clive Barnes

The former New York Times theater critic (1965-1977), and the New York Post's dance and theater critic for the last 30 years, died yesterday at 81.

“He showed a marked taste for experimental and unconventional theater, once dismissing standard Broadway fare as 'stage visualizations of TV dramas,'” eulogized the NYTimes. “The criticism was punchy, chatty and quirky, with a witty turn of phrase that some found delightful, others infuriating.”

“Prolific and influential, he nonetheless maintained a consistently skeptical attitude toward criticism in general and his own in particular. 'The job’s impossible,' he once said, 'and one must pray that one will be only moderately incompetent.'”

A sampling of Mr. Barnes' reviews for the Times:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967): “Very funny, very brilliant, very chilling: it has the dust of thought about it and the particles glitter excitingly in the theatrical air.”

The Boys in the Band (1968): “It makes Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf seem like a vicarage tea party.”

Hair (1968): “The show is the first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday... You probably don't have to be a supporter of Eugene McCarthy to love it, but I wouldn't give it much chance among the adherents of Governor Reagan.”

Promises, Promises (1968): “The kind of show where you feel more in the mood to send it a congratulatory telegram than write a review... where you go out feeling rhythms rather than humming tunes.”

The Kenneth Tynan-devised Oh! Calcutta! (1969): “I have enormous respect for Ken Tynan, as critic, social observer and man of the theater. But what a nice dirty-minded boy like him is doing in a place like this, I fail to understand.”

“It is a show that must dance, jog and whirl its way into the history of the musical theater,” said Clive Barnes of “A Chorus Line” in 1975.

Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1971): “It is a celebration of life and fancy, of man and his imagination, his fate, and the brevity of his brief candle in the light of the world. Shakespeare gave us 'the lunatic, the lover and the poet,' and Brook smilingly added the acrobat... This is without any equivocation whatsoever the greatest production of Shakespeare I have ever seen in my life--and for my joys and my sins I have seen literally hundreds.”

Follies (1971): “The lyrics are as fresh as a daisy. I know of no better lyricist in show-business than Mr. [Stephen] Sondheim--his words are a joy to listen to, even when his music is sending shivers of indifference up your spine. The man is a Hart in search of a Rodgers, or even a Boito in search of a Verdi.”

Equus (1974): “A very fine and enthralling play. It holds you by the root of drama, and it adds immeasurably to the fresh hopes we have for Broadway's future.”

A Chorus Line (1975): “The conservative word for A Chorus Line might be tremendous, or perhaps terrific... It is in a small theater and here, at last, is the intimate big musical. While there will be some to find fault, perhaps with a certain reason, with the hard-edged glossiness of A Chorus Line, it is a show that must dance, jog and whirl its way into the history of the musical theater.”

The Cherry Orchard (1977): “This lyric poem of Russia on the eve of revolution has never been funnier, more tragic or more moving. The State Department should send it instantly to its spiritual home--the Moscow Art Theater.”


Gej said...

Nice crisp reviews.

Interested to read his reviews of Sondheim plays. Do you have any?

gibbs cadiz said...

hi GEJ, here--the sondheim reviews plus others: :)

Anonymous said...

hope we have some reviewers like him in the Philippines. strong theoretical grasp, pero very accessible pa rin ang mga review at HINDI plagiarized. unlike some reviewers here in pinas... na napupublish pa kahit ang pangit ng writing at hindi naman klaro ang point. manila times hope you are reading.

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