Write a Theater Review | Artopia

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How do you decide if you want to go to a particular movie or play or concert? You probably talk with your friends about it. But chances are you also read a review online, in a newspaper or magazine, or listen to a critic on the radio or TV. Critics are an important part of the performing arts world. Here's a chance for you to try out your critical skills by writing a review of one of the Artopia theater productions.

Read a Sample Review

Read this review of "A Lesson Before Dying" by Romulus Linney, based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines. It was a production of The Workshop Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina.

Workshop Theatre presents unforgettable 'Lessons' in grace 
By Jeffery Day,The State Newspaper Staff Writer

"A Lesson Before Dying" at Workshop Theatre is what we should expect from drama. But plays like this have become so rare that we forget that. "Lesson" makes us remember the power that is possible on stage. Written by Romulus Linney, the play is based on Ernest Gaines' acclaimed novel.

A young man, Jefferson, has been scheduled to die in the electric chair in 1948 Louisiana. His godmother wants his former teacher, Grant Wiggins, to teach Jefferson to face his death like a man.

It comes as no surprise that Jefferson inadvertently gives lessons to Wiggins, his godmother, the preacher come to save his soul, and even those who will kill him. What is a surprise is that the tables are turned slowly, with great grace of word and action.

In her directing debut at Workshop, Jocelyn Sanders brings a professional touch to the show, which if not handled precisely could sink into maudlin sentimentality and stereotypes. She and the talented cast bring Gaines' complex, conflicted characters to life.

As the barely literate Jefferson, Wil Glover II moves from the barely human (he's been told he's no more than an animal) to a kind of simple and pure holy man. Maxwell Highsmith plays his teacher Wiggins, a not completely sympathetic character who is battling his own demons, defeats and desires. Celeste Moore as Jefferson's godmother Emma Glen is only on stage for a few scenes, but she is a quiet, commanding presence.

John Morlan as a deputy spends much of the play reading the newspaper, but his is one of the most important roles and he shines in it.

Like Wiggins, the Rev. Ambrose is also not an easy character to like. He carries the message (the one white ministers brought before him) that this world is suffering, but the next will be better. As Ambrose, Curtis McNeil Jr. could have overdone it - this is a preacher after all - but doesn't. Like McNeil, Jeff Smith as the sheriff knows how to play a colorful character without making him a cartoon.

The play doesn't try to dazzle the audience (although the set is excellent) or even entertain it in a conventional sense. It's all substance.

The review, written by theater critic Jeffrey Day, was published in The State newspaper on January 29, 2005. 


Write Your Own Review

Pick one of the Artopia theater videos and watch it several times. Keep in mind that these are scenes, not entire productions. Also, they are very different from one another, so they have to be judged by different standards.]

Follow these steps to write your review. You do not have to put your ideas in this order, but try to include at least one paragraph on each of the themes.

  1. Begin by writing a Headline and Byline. Give your review a title - that's your headline. The byline is your name.
  2. Introduction - This should include the name of the production, type of play - comedy, drama, musical, etc. - and the performing group .
  3. Theme - Describe the main subject matter or message of the play. What is the playwright's purpose ? Does is succeed? Does the play add something to your understanding and experience of life?
  4. Technical Aspects - Write about the lighting, the set, the costumes and the sound . How does each one affect the atmosphere of the play? Do they work together, or do they work against each other?
  5. Acting - Are the actors convincing? Are there any outstanding performances ? Do the actors make their relationships clear?
  6. Directing - Is the blocking - the movement of the actors - appropriate to the play? Is the stage picture balanced ? Are any aspects of the production confusing?
  7. Your Opinion - Discuss how you feel about any aspects of the play, but give reasons to back up your opinions and beliefs.

This exercise is based on a lesson plan developed by Indira Cureton-Cummings of Chapin High School, Chapin, South Carolina.