Theater Review

In the last several years I’ve been writing a series of “review poems.” I think of them either as “meta-poems” or perhaps as “meta-reviews.” In either case, rather than being a dutiful poetic commentary on a particular work, they look to do a few things that seem (to me at least) to be more interesting. One is to parody the review form itself, particularly the conceit that a reviewer is doing anything more than giving his or her opinion; another is to expand the possibilities for thinking about the review as a genre, in other words to question the limiting notion that a review should be strictly an analysis/opinion about a given work. I give myself leeway to “review” whatever aspect of a piece of art or a genre interests me. For instance my “Book Review” is in part about scatalogical references in Wallace Stevens’s poetry; my “Music Review” is in part a continuation of a private conversation about hidden intentions in the blues. Another function of these poems is to give myself an excuse to suggest, or hint at, and sometimes to go on at length about, some aspects or meanings in a work, genre, or artist that strike me in some way, and provoke in me a strong response. Another function is to describe and/or analyze the experience of consuming a particular art form. My “Music Review,” for instance, includes some recollections of live performances, and my “Movie Review” starts with a group of friends sitting in a movie theater.

The review poems are also collages. Random excerpts from published reviews, along with quotes from various people, including artists and friends, get stirred into the stew.

Another important aspect of the review poems is their form. Since reviews are written in prose, the review poems are also basically prose. However I also play around with the fact that I call them poems. When I started writing them I used a “stanza form” that consisted of seven line stanzas with no particular limit on the number of stanzas. However within each stanza there were no line breaks—the stanzas were essentially prose paragraphs that I defined with an arbitrary carriage return every seven lines. As I continued working with the “reviews” I gradually arrived at a looser method of organization which is a hybrid of prose and free verse. Again there are “stanza breaks” (or paragraph breaks or “verse paragraph” breaks) but the stanzas basically consist of prose.

Finally, the review poems allow me to write about the culture of some art forms. For three or four years I was privileged to accompany (on percussion) the “movement for actors” classes in the graduate theater program of an elite institution. There were perks that came with the job, such as free tickets to performances, a summer program that required very little real work, and also the privilege to interact, in a limited way, with the students. The thing that struck me the most about the culture of the program was the amount and degree of hard partying that went on. I’m sure not every student was involved in that activity to the same extent, but, at least as far as I could see, it was the primary extracurricular activity that dominated the culture of the program. I’ve done my share of hard partying, but my hard partying looks soft in comparison with what I got glimpses of in this theater program.

So, when I sat down to write a “Theater Review,” the thing that popped most immediately to mind was the culture of the department I had played for. The poem is not all about partying—it addresses a variety of ideas about the nature and function of acting, theater, and actors, often in a light tone.

The poem follows:



The actors are working hard to live up to the bohemian orthodoxies. “Whose hand is that? I don’t care.” Would you like a drink? Or 50 drinks?

Give them a compliment and they’re convinced you want to sleep with them.  Any red-blooded young man would, I suppose, but I was old enough to be her father; I would at least have appreciated some conversation. Still, she had a great future in front of her, with her extraterrestrial hairdo.

“He’s the best-hung man in New York,” she said, “he’s famous for that.”

And your point would be?

They hone their craft well. One responded to the mention of Maria Callas by asking “what show” she was in. “Annie Get Your Gun,” was the reply.

To be an actor who becomes an actor by acting like an actor, a  public presence, or nuisance, your very own stage or platform manner,  carried on your back like a monkey—it really works.

Not to mention Ivy League crack heads standing on the corner reciting Shakespeare for the next rock, entertaining with tales of gang rape.

There but for fortune…

And yet one can’t help wondering what they were thinking.

We really have reached the point where a standing ovation doesn’t mean a thing.

Take John Malkovich for example (if you can excuse me for being so square). Or the emperor’s new clothes. Or the aspiring actor who walked full tilt into a mirror one summer in an exercise that involved wearing a blindfold. He was anxious to get ahead.

Nor can we forget all that good work they do at the gym; you never know when an action role might pop up. And anyway it helps them to withstand the biological damage from the bohemian orthodoxies.

Sports of all sorts, winter sports summer sports for reasons unknown but time will tell… Lucky got lucky.

 But I finally figured it out: Their job is to inhabit names not their own, like sausages stuffed with whatever’s on the menu this season.

Giving physical life to the ineffable workings of an artistic mind isn’t easy, especially when the products of that mind have become internationally famous.

 “Did you choose the mask or did the mask choose you,” he iterated and reiterated.

How many Hamlets does it take to eat a cheese Danish?

How many shows, or movies, about show business do we need? And 70% of getting the job is physical appearance, according to the extraordinarily handsome, gay, blonde movement teacher who was full of “words of wisdom.” “Keep your hands away from your nose!!” for instance. And, “Seventy percent of life is showing up.” And “We sculpt the body.” And “I have a green thumb that could kill you.”

Which makes me glad that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

“There’s no people like show people.” And we always have as many as we need.


Ian Ganassi’s poetry, prose and translations have appeared in numerous journals, including Fogged Clarity, Octopus, New England Review, Folly, Map Literary, New American Writing, Interim and Sawbuck, among many others. Selections from an ongoing collaboration with a painter friend have appeared at Zone Contemporary Art in Manhattan and the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, and online at Fogged Clarity. Visit to view almost 200 collages.