“David in Shadow and Light” at Theater J, and the Strange World of “The Washington Post”

We were out of the country when “David” opened. From talking with Hannah and the pre-opening publicity, we understood that “David” was to a staged retelling of the story of the Biblical king, warts and all, with drama, music and dance. It was a world premiere, and a various ambitious production. The development process, we knew, had been filled with ups and downs, and continual modifications. We understood that the cast was terrific.

The night of the opening, we are told, the theater was ecstatic because the kinks seemed gone, and the audience seemed enthralled and very positive. What a way to end an ambitious season.

The Peter Marks’ review came out in the Post, which savaged virtually everything about the production. It was a vicious review, almost humorous if it weren’t so sad, said the playwright. And then the ticket sales slowed to a trickle, and even some subscribers chose not to come. It didn’t help when the weekend section building on the marks review, placed a red “do not go” sign next to the one paragraph summary.

The theater lost a lot of money on the production, and decided to close it one week early. That means that the final performances are today, Sunday, June 15.

In the ‘Sunday Source’ section of today’s Washington Post, “David” is again mentioned. Ready for this (and I quote):

“David in Shadow and Light — closes today. For this stunning and strange musical, Theater J has assembled an amazing team of performers who tell King David’s story partially through dance sequences, framed by the commentary of an archangel and Adam (yes, that Adam)….”

What is going on here? As Paul Harvey would say, and here is the rest of the story (i.e., what the Post should have said):

“David in Shadow and Light — closes today, one week early after having disappointing audiences due to the savage, tasteless and misleading review written by Peter Marks and published by this newspaper. The theater has suffered financial loss by virtue of the Post’s panning of the show, in spite of the fact that it is a stunning piece of theater performed by an amazing team of performers. The playwright has suffered financially, because the Post’s review will undoubtedly live on and make it more difficult to stage this expensive production elsewhere. The Post apologizes for the misuse of its great power and urges you to see the show today if you can.”

As to Peter Marks, it is time for him to find a new field of employment.

As to the show itself, which we saw last night (the theater was about 3/4 filled on a Saturday night), I went with some trepidation, concerned that I might conclude that Marks was correct. I should not have been worried. The retelling of the full David story in two acts was done with care and thoroughness and good taste. The music, combining operatic, with high-end broadway, with klezmer, with liturgical, and with pop styles, is imaginative and memorable. None of the actors can be criticized. The staging was intriguing and supported the show perfectly. The mens’ room buzz after the show, and the ladies’ room buzz (which I got second hand), and the parking lot buzz was very positive. And this is not unusual. For example, taking an early morning walk this morning, I ran into old friends who had seen the show a few weeks ago, and told me how much they enjoyed and asked how Peter Marks could have written that review. When I told them about this morning’s Sunday Source, they were aghast.

OK, Washington Post, live up to your responsibility and employ theater critics who are (a) honest, but (b) who are also supportive of theatrical experiments even when they themselves find a performance not to their particular liking.

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