Thursday, July 30, 2009

i think this guy likes us

an op-ed by milwaukee's own damien jaques, written a week or so ago during one of the many crests of the skylight opera theatre saga, didn't get the attention it deserved.

in it, jaques reminds us that artists, milwaukee artists, actually do actually matter:
Milwaukee and Wisconsin reached a critical mass of stage talent in the 1980s, and like nuclear fission, the energy has happily continued to spark and feed on itself for more than two decades.

Outstanding theater artists who could work anywhere, including New York, decided to settle here, sink roots, buy houses, send their children to our schools, pay taxes. We developed a reputation for being a welcoming community with good, artist-friendly stage companies that received strong box office and fund raising support. Artists were respected and even cherished here.

It should come as no surprise that these favorable conditions affected what we saw on stage. A good work environment inspires the best in people and attracts others of superior talent.
you know, i think this guy likes us.

this jaques fellow and i had a wee squabble a few years back – quite polite, nothing too serious, mind you, just a friendly tiff – over a review he'd written about a play i'd been planning to see. the play starred many of my dear, dear friends, and i was anxious to know what to say of their performances should i be forced to greet them at the stage door after the show.

this is the basic reason i read most theatre reviews: to memorize a line or two i can toss out post-performance while in the midst of hugging a sweaty ingenue. good or bad, it doesn't matter – i am a master at manipulating a review quote to make it seem perfectly appropriate, whatever the circumstances: "i thought you did so much more than posing, mary-ann!" or "goodness gary, you were better than broadway!" or my personal favorite, "oh, henry! i don't really think every quart of milk in a ten mile radius curdled when you began to sing!" and jaques' reviews were the best, a veritable fountain of stage door compliments, most of which i didn't even have to alter, except for the words i couldn't pronounce.

however, after reading this jaques' review – which contained a mere three sentence, one paragraph mention of which actors played which roles – i was stumped. jaques' article said nothing of the actor's accomplishments, nothing of the director's staging, it only listed their names (many of which i already knew, save that tall man with the beard.) that, and some cheap talk of a few pretty lights, a sharply focused gobo, some painted flats, and a pleasant curtain speech was all i got.

what was i to do?

i'll tell you what i did, i didn't go to see the play. i couldn't! instead, i sent a pissy little letter to the milwaukee journal/sentinel saying something incredibly wry, like, "after reading mr. jaques' lengthy review of "bladdy-blah-hoo-ha", i have no earthly idea if he thinks i should attend a performance of it or not. please tell mr. jaques for me, if i was interested in reading a book report on playwright applejack mc-twoshoes, i would have paid a visit to the local library." in my head, i pronounced "library" in that snotty, upper crust, british way - libry. libry. fuh-fuh. take that mr. reviewer guy, i thought.

several weeks later, i heard through a friend of a friend that jaques actually felt bad about the letter i'd sent.

"he read it!?" i shouted, incredulously.

"yes, and he felt quite bad."

being the stone cold, hard-as-a-rock, iceberg man that i am, i wept. immediately i felt a walloping sense of guilt for making the man feel bad.

"really? bad? he felt bad?"

"yes." i was told. "quite bad."

oh man.


i didn't mean to make anyone feel bad.

oh hell.

so a day or so later i called him. i called damien jaques on the telephone and we talked about that horribly written review. after giving him a heartfelt apology (that i'd memorized earlier that day from a dear abby column in jaques' own newspaper) i decided to cut to the heart of the matter. "why, jaques!?" i demanded, "why did you write such a lame, flaccid review in the first place?"

"tony," he said – trying to butter me up by using my first name, a trick he learned, no doubt, from his days slumming with the likes of clair richardson – "i didn't think it was a very good production."

ah-ha! settled, i thought! finally, i had the truth! i pounced: "why the devil didn't you put that in the review, you dunderhead!" i may not have said dunderhead.

"because i have such great respect for all those people, every one of those actors, and the director, i just...i couldn't bring myself to write in a review what i really thought about the show. so i only talked about the things i liked."

now, you might be sitting there in milwaukee, relaxing in your boxers with your cat yawning at your side, and you might be reading this delightful anecdote thinking, "well the bastard didn't seem to mind giving me a crappy review for my performance in ziggity-do-dah-day!" and you're right. he did give you a crappy review. someday we'll talk about your stale, lifeless performance in ziggity-do-dah-day, but save that for another occasion. your birthday. purim.

apparently this production (and boy, am i'm going to get mail) was just so damned horrid, jaques couldn't do it. he couldn't bring himself to write that scathing, awful review.

because he cared too much about those actors.

and you know what i thought?
i thought, "i like this guy."


  1. Tony. How did you know I was sitting here reading this in my shorts with my cat in my lap. Reading this put a huge smile on my face. I remember you telling me about this when it happened. It's hard to believe that about 20 years have passed since we first met at Waukesha CIvic Theater. I just want to extand my heartfelt thanks for all you've done here lately!! You are a wonderful man, my friend. Xxoo

  2. You, Mr. Clements, are a gifted writer. Thank you.

  3. This made me smile. Great writing Tony!

  4. Dawna Ellis (Gregory)July 31, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Another great story....thanks, Tony.

    Thank you, too, Mr. Jaques, for your honosty.....oh, and your support of ALL us theater folks!

  5. Wow, Tony! I always liked damien, but now I have even more reason.
    Gotta say I love your writing as well!


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