For most seasoned theater professionals, an occasional bad review just goes along with the territory. But nothing could prepare the Centerville Barnstormers for the shock they experienced last Friday, when their latest effort garnered a less than perfect score from Mildred Quackenbush of Arts Alive.
Arts Alive is an online theater blog which is managed and published by Quackenbush, a former junior college theater major and part-time fabric store clerk. Quackenbush is an ubiquitous fixture in the Centerville theater scene. The spry spinster regularly attends everything from local community and dinner theater productions to church Christmas pageants, Shakespeare in the Park, and summer camp musicals at nearby Lake Veronica.
The Barnstormers, who are staging a musical version of Twelve Angry Men, were deeply dismayed when Quackenbush awarded their ambitious undertaking only 4½ Stars.
“This was completely unexpected,” said Barnstormers’ creative director Lionel Fairbanks, Jr. “Mimsy reviewed 14 different productions of A Doll House last month alone and gave each one of them the 5-Star treatment. She also wrote glowing reviews of the JCC productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Crossing Delancey. We just can’t understand what we did to rate this disappointing 4½ Star review.”
Fairbanks noted that companies like the Barnstormers depend on stellar press in amateur endeavors, such as Arts Alive, to hype their offerings to a mostly unsuspecting public.
“Legitimate critics seldom come to our shows, and when they do, all bets are off. With Mimsy, we could always count on a glowing piece of pablum to boost our production. She uses a lot of ‘R’ words, like ‘riveting’, ‘raucous’ and ‘rollicking’. Those are catchy adjectives and always look great in our pull quotes.”
Like most other companies, the Barnstormers regularly employ pull quotes in their print and online advertising. They also depend heavily on the value of a five-star graphic, since many people won’t even take the time to read a truncated tease.
While it wasn’t clear to Fairbanks what the Barnstormers did to garner a meager 4½ Star review, some suspect that Quackenbush might have taken slight offense with the saxophone solo in the “Run it up the Flagpole” number. Others note this isn’t the first time the smiling septuagenarian has somewhat hedged in handing out her trademark glowing endorsements.
A critique of last year’s Bankcroft Elementary School Fall PTA Program mentioned the “silly memory lapses” of second-grader Timmy Carter. Carter apparently kept forgetting Chicken Little’s famous, ‘The sky is falling!’ line. Ultimately, Quackenbush gave the show 5-Stars anyway but suggested Timmy spend, “a little less time clowning around with Ducky Lucky”.
Quackenbush did not respond to several email requests for comment. Her online schedule appeared to be completely filled this weekend, with stops to review local productions of Man of La Mancha, You Can’t Take It With You, Noises Off, My Fair Lady, Our Town, Driving Miss Daisy, The Crucible, Bye Bye Birdie, Ten Little Indians, Oklahoma and A Doll House.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”