Dear Chris Jones: Who is your audience?


The first paragraph in Chris Jones’ review of Shattered Globe’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane made my eyes roll this morning:

[Warning: the graf below hints at some key plot points to the play. So, if you haven’t seen “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” read at your own risk. I include this graf because it’s essential to my point of contention with Mr. Jones.]

After some 14 years in existence, including on and off Broadway, in London and in several Chicago-area productions, Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” isn’t likely to shock most theater-goers with the same force it once did. By now, most of us know that the embittered, middle-age Maureen of Leenane, Connemara, isn’t to be trusted with either her domineering, manipulative, life-consuming mother or a hot stove and boiling water.

I’ve been living in Chicago for 11 years, and haven’t seen a production of this show before. Sure, other Chicago companies may have done it (I gather Steppenwolf did it … 12 years ago), but that doesn’t mean I’ve seen them — or that I’ve seen so many productions, the shock value is gone. Of course, I’m not counting all the traveling I do to London and New York to catch the openings of every major play, including this one (snort).

And, because I was so blown away by this play and Shattered Globe’s production, I’ve made sure to tell everyone I know who regularly attends theatre to try to catch it.

And, surprise!, they’ve never heard of the play before.

So, who is your audience, Mr. Jones? Do you realize how jaded and out-of-touch your opening paragraph makes you sound?

For the most part, I respect Jones as a critic. I think he offers insightful, well-reasoned analyses of productions and shows. (And, to be fair, the rest of his Beauty Queen review is very well-written.) The guy is clearly very smart. But every once in a while, he makes statements like this that make me wonder just who he thinks the typical Chicago theatre-goer is? Certainly not the younger generation, who perhaps hasn’t attend every production of every show for the past 15 years or more.

And certainly it’s not the theatre-goer who wants to be shocked for the first time by Martin McDonagh’s remarkable play, since he basically gives away some major plot points in his opening graf.

Tacky.

I’m not saying it’s a crime to be well-seasoned as a theatre critic — in fact, it’s essential. But to make flippant statements like this raises the question: what’s going on in your head, Mr. Jones?

Related: my thoughts on Shattered Globe’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

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4 Comments

  1. Chris Jones is THE Chicago theatre guru! But that first paragraph is disconnected and disengaged with the ultimate goal to promote ticket purchasers TO an excellent theatrical experience not away from it!

  2. Bob, my friend, please do not ever become this bitter and unprofessional!! There is NOTHING more disrespectful to a theatre company than printing “spoilers” in a review. It is terribly heartbreaking to a director and a cast who worked hard to provide an audience with that “shock and awe” moment.

    Shame on Jones for this…regardless of how many times HE has seen the show…and kudos to Bob for calling him out!

    • Thanks, Dan! And, you made me realize that I should probably be considerate and put a spoiler warning before Mr. Jones’ introductory paragraph. Which I just did.

  3. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable theater-goer. I have heard of this play, but never seen a production of it – and what a crock. That ending would have shocked me. At least until it was spoiled in that review.

    This echoes how I feel about a great deal of theater-people, actually. I know that theater may be your passion and your all-consuming interest, but the other 95% of the world (I’m being generous, by the way) doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

    <– Sorry, had to vent.

    Pretension makes me nuts.


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