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You published a review written by Alexander Kafka of the play Mirandolina as performed by Classika Theatre (“Commedia of Errors,” 3/2). Because the “review” was written in such an ugly, mendacious, and incompetent way, I have no choice but to respond to it and express my feelings about the content and style of that “review.” In no way is this letter an apology for or even an explanation of the company’s choices in the production. It’s rather an expression of disbelief at the reviewer’s illiteracy and mediocrity.
In reality, Kafka’s piece of trash cannot even be called a reviewit is a scurrilous libel, a classic example of the tabloid “yellow press.” It reminded me of the old Soviet editorials printed in the infamous Pravda newspaper when they wished to run a campaign against another “black sheep”that is, anyone who did something in a manner other than mainstream.
Classika never was a typical American theater (if such a thing exists). It was organized by theater professionals from the former Soviet Union, and its mission is to “stage an international classical repertoire for both children and adults in the Russian theatrical tradition.” Classika stages plays that rarely (if ever) have been seen on local stages. Most of the plays staged in the three short years of Classika’s existence have been either national or local premieres. But Kafka has no idea what makes up the Russian theatrical tradition, a tradition well-respected throughout the world and well-represented at Classika, as evidenced by the awards garnered for artistic excellence from both American and Russian organizations.
Everything in Kafka’s “review” is so overwhelmingly bombastic and deceiving that I really feel bad writing this letter and addressing these mattersit’s like discussing an adult topic with an uneducated teenager who believes that if he doesn’t know something, it doesn’t exist. There is no doubt that Kafka didn’t like the play. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is no theater production that meets everyone’s tastes, as there is no movie, or book, or painting that everybody likes and appreciates. And if Kafka would have written that, even with all the explanations and feelings he might’ve had, I wouldn’t care. I have been involved with professional theater for more than 30 years, I know the rules of the game. I’m not asking for Kafka’s credentials in the area of theaterit’s obvious there are few or none. But Kafka attacks me personally, my choices and my knowledge of the subject. He accuses me of not knowing what I’m talking about (“it’s hard to argue with logic like that,” he writes), of lying (“You wonder which four big books she read”), and of not knowing my craft (“her commedia is not only not commedia, but not even circuslike, at least not in the sense she intended”).
Kafka has no understanding of theatrical styles, no knowledge of theater history or classic literature, no aesthetic feeling for the theatrical medium, no appreciation for the actors, no sense of responsibility, and no intellectual ability to understand the story and describe it in sophisticated language. This is made evident by his comments. His level of sophistication could not be described better than in his own words: “You’d be basing an evening on Romeo and Juliet if you…threw it on your coffee table, and put your muddy hiking boots up on it while scarfing down malted-milk balls and watching XFL football.” Kafka and I are not just in different categories, professionally; we are different speciesto me, the behavior and language in the above quoted phrase is not human. During my 20 years of professional work in Russia we considered theater a temple of arta place where artists create “the Beautiful, the Wise, the Eternal.” One walks into this temple and takes one’s dirty shoes off. But Kafka wouldn’t understand thathe treats theater as if it were a dirty puddle and the people who work there were morons who need his unsolicited, primitive lack of expertise to understand how they should exercise their art.
Where did he get his gibberish explanations about Goldoni, his rubbish remarks on commedia dell’arte, his shoddy descriptions of pantomime, music, blockings, and so on? How did he draw parallels with Cheers, Ally McBeal, Alek Keshishian’s Madonna, and so forth? He is clearly an expert on TV sitcoms and prime-time dramas. The best compliment Kafka can think of for a production might be “an enlightenment setup somewhat akin to Cheers.” His imagination doesn’t go beyond Cheers.
Kafka doesn’t know that the tango is not blocked, it is choreographed; he doesn’t know the difference between pantomime (we don’t have it in our play) and acrobatics and clowning (we have a lot of it in the production). He knows that the balalaika is a Russian folk instrument (we don’t have it in our play), but he doesn’t know that the mandolin is an Italian folk instrument (we have a lot of it). He can’t tell a balalaika and a mandolin apart. He can’t recognize the beautiful Italian music (it is an Italian play, you know), and he writes that the play was “[a]ccompanied by…mostly hokey arrangements with balalaikathe production’s like a dreadful high school talent show with a soundtrack of Russian Muzak.” While Russian music is beautiful to some ears, none was used in our production of Mirandolina.
Every statement in the “review” is plain nonsense, accompanied by false accusations and expressed in unforgettably flagitious language. Each line in the “review” consists of lies, misinterpretions, misconceptions, and bad writing. “Bumping and grinding,” Mr. Kafka thinks, would make you think “the show, at the least, would be a little sexy” (??). Then he says that “an intriguingly blocked tango” is among “several micromoments polished enough to catch your eyes” and, a few lines later, “The tango is one of many anachronistic flourishes….” In his closing paragraph, Kafka quotes a line of one of the characters in the play in describing his own overall feeling about the production of Mirandolina. I would like to follow his steps this time and quote another line of the same character in describing my overall feeling and impression of Kafka: “What a jerk!”
I believe that the City Paper owes us an apology for the shoddiness of its writers. The last time, I ignored a review written by another great “critic” in your newspaper. She described a musical arrangement in our play A Month in the Country by Ivan Turgenev as “cheesy music.” She was talking about the 2nd Concerto of Rachmaninov. As I said in the beginning of this letter, we all have different tastes, but I don’t believe that lack of knowledge and ignorance is an excuse for destroying a company’s reputation and causing it moral and financial damage.
Artistic Director and Co-Founder