Like most folks who work in the theater professionally, the “backstage comedy” holds a special place in my heart. Modern backstage comedies like Slings and Arrows and Waiting for Guffman have a special resonance for those of us who make our living on and off stage – we spend so much of our time dressing up and pretending to be someone else (often satirizing their faults and foibles) that there’s something extra fun about getting our turn in the satirical crosshairs.
Which brings us to The Critic – perhaps the first of the true “backstage comedies”, spawning a long line of successors like Noises Off, Moon Over Buffalo, Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy, and a host of others. While Sheridan certainly didn’t invent the idea of lampooning the mores of the theater (in fact, The Critic is largely an adaptation of an earlier, anonymously published play called The Rehearsal), earlier attempts at this genre were usually more about sullying the reputation of a rival playwright or company of actors than of creating a play for a general audience. And yet – like almost all of Sheridan’s plays, this is first and foremost a “comedy of manners”; an insightful skewering of the mores and ideologies of his own time.
What I find as I’ve dug deeper into this play during the process of putting together Monday's reading is that to me, The Critic’s satire seems sharper, more universal, than that of some of Sheridan’s more famous works like The Rivals or School for Scandal. This may have something to do with Sheridan’s natural familiarity with his subject in this play, or it might have something to do with the heightened theatricality of the world in which we currently reside – in a world where almost every conceivable activity and/or sub-section of the population MUST have a reality television show devoted to it, a play satirizing the banality and hyper-dramatization of our day to day lives seems incredibly apropos, especially given the “big theatrical performance” we’re all facing down. (The election – I’m talking about the election. This is as close to “political commentary” as you’re likely to get from me.)
So I invite you – examine carefully the men who populate this world Sheridan creates in The Critic. And please, join us Monday night. I think we could all use an evening to step away from the arena and take a peek backstage, hopefully laughing all the way.
Director, THE CRITIC