I have a reputation for cynicism and crankery, but that doesn’t explain why I find Jason Zinoman’s New York Times pan of The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy more assuring than Michael Criscuolo’s rave review in NYTheatre. Good criticism is never merely a thumbs-up, thumbs-down decision; that never requires more than two words. Good criticism sees past the production to the larger issues at stake. And as vaporous as the Times often is, Zinoman’s doubts went beyond one man’s Yoda impressions.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy may seem like just an oddball summer gimmick, but it is in some ways the logical extension of where commercial theater is headed. The crowds at Spamalot, a highly polished imitation of old Monty Python skits, laugh before the punch lines. And the many jukebox musicals—which, don’t fool yourself, are not going away—preach to the converted.
Returning to New Jersey last Friday night, I shared a train car with a man resembling a bleach-dipped Jim Henson. Accompanying him was a young woman—presumably his daughter. On his chest was this t-shirt. In her lap was this headpiece, presumably homemade. They probably weren’t returning from Primo.
Zinoman cautions that these “geek audience” shows are closer to religious revivals than to theatre, and that matches my own experience on New Jersey Transit. Meanwhile Criscuolo broadens the horizons of his review by suggesting that readers watch Wayne’s World—in addition to all three Star Wars films—in order to get the jokes.
Criticism should identify a play’s place in the world. And the world is much larger than any Monty Python sketch.