What To Do When Your Friend's Play Sucks

(Or tell me about at time when you saw something really bad that you knew someone who was involved with it.)

Toronto’s Fringe Festival (consisting of 130 different plays performing around the city) is wrapping up today and I got a chance to catch the final showing of a play featuring a friend of mine from high school. She was good but the play was brutal. The male lead was stumbling over his lines, the writing was trying to be ironic and satirical and fell way short of both attempts. I was never sure what point the writer/director was trying to make. It was cringe-worthy but not in the good way like The Office. Both of Toronto’s independent weekly newspapers gave it 1 star out of 5. It was justified.

I just don’t know what to say the next time I see her. “I loved your performance even though the writing was repetitive and dull and you had nothing to work with. Also, the takeoffs of the 80s showtunes had the creativity of a high school student but you did a hell of a job belting them out.”

I just felt bad for her.

So when did you see one of your friends in a cringe-worthy performance and how did you deal with it?

Just say, “I loved your performance. You did a hell of a job belting out those songs”.
That’s it.
In a situation where someone’s art is crappy or their newborn baby is hideously ugly but you want to be nice, it’s usually best to try to find something positive that you can honestly compliment the person on (“Nice brush strokes there.” “What a breath-taking baby”). In this case, that seems pretty easy when you did like the parts she was involved with and she had nothing to do with the parts you hated.
When I first saw your subject line, I thought your friend’s performance or writing was what you had hated. Now that I know she probably didn’t have anything to do with the parts you hated, I don’t really see why you even need to mention how crappy the rest of it was. And even if she was the one who was responsible for the crappiness, well, since the show is over now I’m still not sure that I would mention the horrible aspects. The director probably learned something from those reviews already.

What lavenderviolet said. Don’t offer more unless your friend asks for it, and only then if you can discuss it intelligently/constructively. Saying it sucks doesn’t offer much, but being able to say “I didn’t like this part and here’s why,” is much less likely to offend.

Obviously, I would never tell her anything negative about the play when I speak to her and I’d only speak to the things that she was a part of. She wasn’t involved in the writing process and she couldn’t control that her male counterpart had a deer-in-the-headlights look. She did well with what she had to work with and I’m sure next year will be better.

I was hoping this would take more of a “people sharing their stories” tangent.

Wasn’t there another post in this thread? A very short one telling Kid_A to lie to his friend? Am I hallucinating?

I have a friend who is an actress, and whenever I’ve seen any of her shows, I’ve done exactly what I said in my previous post – complimented her sincerely on her performance and then discussed the rest of the show. Even when she was a ukelele-playing woodland creature in a children’s show. It’s always been very not crazy. The conversations we have are great conversations, but fairly boring for storytelling. Of course my friend is, you know, sane and has always put in a great performance.

Reminds me of a story my mother used to tell.

When we kids asked her once what attracted her to my father she said “He swept me off my feet. He used to write me poetry – pages and pages of poetry!”

We were shocked, not having any idea that our father was that romantic, and we asked her if she still had any of the poetry.

“Heavens, no. I threw it all out years ago. It was terrible poetry! Just awful! Your father couldn’t write poetry worth a damn. But that’s not the point.”

Don’t actors and actresses want honest feedback? How else can they grow and excel in their craft?

Your friend did well, but the rest didn’t. I don’t see anything wrong with telling her you enjoyed her performance (the truth) but the rest…(again, the truth.)

Chances are, she already knows the play she was in sucked. Even great actors (Dustin Hoffman) can appear in real turkeys (Ishtar) every once in awhile.

Some years ago I did a thread called Workplace skits - no thanks, I’ll take the hot steel pokers in my eyes, please.

I bought an album from a coworker (he was the bass-player in the band). I didn’t care for the music, and I’m having a tough time thinking if anybody would (although apparently enough people did). I said “There’s some good stuff going on there,” because it had a few moments that seemed promising.

My sister in pursuing one of her many passing interests, got involved in the local acting troupe. She landed a bit part in some dopey comedy and talked me and my SO into going.

Ugh….Categorizing the show as amateurish would be giving it too much credit. Figure it was few notches below the average high school production -and not much better than one from middle school. I’m sure the four other members of the audience had the same assessment.

So when we got the: “So what did you think?” I just hemmed and hawed a “Yeah, that was something, you all certainly put forth a good effort,” and she obviously noted the less than enthusiastic review but there was no cause to be ignorant.

As a teacher, I more or less watch bad performances professionally (if I get to heaven it will be for not bailing on certain performances–the orchestra where you couldn’t recognize the song, the Romeo & Juliet finger puppet show where they read the whole first act word-for-word for what I certainly hope was the first time, the choir concerts where I have to listen to elementary and middle school kids I don’t know to get to my own . . . ) If her performance was good, you really don’t even have a problem–you say “You were amazing. You outclassed everyone else on the stage”: when it’s your friend–or your student–it’s harder. On one hand, you have to remember 1) not to judge them against impossible standards. Media brings us absolutely top-rate, one-in-a-thousand talents performing in our houses. So sometimes you can miss really good work because it’s not Oscar quality. and 2) trying not to crush growing talent or 3) be an ass. On the other hand, someday that friend may really and truly knock it out of the park, and when that happens, you don’t want to have blown your crediblity by praising too easily before. I don’t have a good solution–I do very different things with different kids depending on what I think they want/need.

I’m pretty sure your friend knows how bad the play was.

Moving thread from IMHO to Cafe Society.

It’s one thing to support a friend, but false enthusiasm is something different.

I’d have no problem saying “Meh. Sorry, but it just wasn’t to my taste.”

My friends like different music, different movies, different books, different beverages, different places and different things. I see no reason why I should be expected to have the same tastes. If one of my friends made a Torture Porn movie, not only would I absolutely refuse to see it, but I’d make no secret of my disgust for those sorts of things.

Just be honest.
Every actor has been in a horrible production (ask Dustin Hoffman when Ishtar 2 is coming out) and knows the show sucks.

I would say, “you were really good, but the play itself sucked. But seriously, you did a great job with what you had to work with!”

That is a totally honest answer and if I were the actor, I would take it as a personal compliment. If you ever read reviews, it is not uncommon for a reviewer to say the play/musical/movie was horrible, but that one actor in the production was great. And many a truly horrible production has been saved by one good performance - so if your friend is truly into theater, they will understand completely.

It’s not like they wrote or directed it. I still think Ewan McGregor was great in the star wars prequel catastrophe.

No. They want to be told they’re really really good and that they are, in fact, the point around which the universe revolves. I say this after having spent four years as an undergrad in and around actors.

Yeah, in my experience, as a general rule, there is nobody as eager to discuss the shortcomings and idiocy of their coworkers as an actress/actor. Especially the poor choices of the director/playwright.

“It was. . .interesting.”


Usually, there is something that you can mention that was positive. I recently saw a thoroughly high school production of The Scottish Play that contained the most nightmarish MacDuff family murder I have ever witnessed. Ever. For that scene alone, I’m glad I went.

I wouldn’t add any “buts,” or “howevers” to your carefully selected praise unless your friend specifically solicits them (by offering her own examples, for instance).

Heh. I’m filing that one away for future use …