In 1997 David Sedaris published a funny story called “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,” narrated by a merciless drama critic who takes it upon himself to expose the appallingly low theatrical standards of elementary and middle school Christmas plays. The story is subtitled “Trite Christmas: Scottsfield’s young hams offer the blandest of holiday fare,” and it goes like this:
In the role of Mary, six-year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin. A cloying, preening stage presence, her performance seemed based on nothing but an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and, on rare occasions, opening her eyes. As Joseph, second-grade student Douglas Trazzare needed to be reminded that, although his character did not technically impregnate the virgin mother, he should behave as though he were capable of doing so. Thrown into the mix were a handful of inattentive shepherds and a trio of gift-bearing seven-year-olds who could probably give the Three Stooges a run for their money. As for the lighting, Sacred Heart Elementary chose to rely on nothing more than the flashbulbs ignited by the obnoxious stage mothers and fathers who had created those zombies staggering back and forth across the linoleum-floored dining hall. Under certain circumstances parental pride is understandable but it has no place in the theater, where it tends to encourage a child to believe in a talent that, more often than not, simply fails to exist.
In the same spirit of uncompromising service to the sanctity of the dramatic arts, Funny Or Die introduces Arthur H. Cartwright, Children’s Theatre Critic. (See above.) Alfred Molina plays the perpetually scowling Cartwright, who bullies a cast of prepubescent mediocrities. “The direction was staid, the sets ramshackle and the costumes unremarkable–hardly worth the free admission,” he says. “But we tried hard,” says a cute little girl. “Try telling that to the spirits of Ibsen and Brecht,” says Cartwright, “because you’ve just trampled all over them!”
Speaking of Brecht, don’t miss our post from earlier today: Bertolt Brecht Testifies Before the House Un-American Activities Committee (1947)