Ajax in Iraq Review: Aaron Riccio, That Sounds Cool

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Mike Mihm, Raushanah Simmons)

Argh, I am so far behind in my responses to reviews! There is now Flavorpill, Theatre is Easy, Time Out New York, the New York Times and BroadwayWorld.com to respond to (am I missing any of them?)
Excuse: I have been in L.A. for the TCG National Conference, and it has been a whirlwind. I am going to try to catch up this week, and finish all responses before the show closes.
Aaron Riccio is more than a critic to Flux; he has become a highly valued, impartial outside eye. If you’re wondering why he occupies that unofficial position in our collective consciousness, read closely his review of Ajax in Iraq. Though a mixed review of the play, it’s an example, I think, of balanced and thoughtful criticism.
He acknowledges the play’s social function, considering the meaning of the play’s content as well as its form; he cites specific examples from the text for most of his criticisms; he brings in the history of our work; and he allows the reader space to form their own conclusions as to whether they want to see the show.
It is one of the hardest things to do as an artist and critic – leaving room for the audience/reader to fill with their own meaning. Many reviews so pulverize or praise a production, that when your own experience is different, the review seems written from another planet – “did we see the same play?”
Good reviewers, however, have the confidence in their critical opinion to leave room for the reader; the review has the feeling of a dialogue, rather than a diatribe. As an example, consider this paragraph, which I excerpt in full:

From a dramaturgic perspective, this is all interesting and perhaps necessary, given the lack of adult education and the steep divide between those in the military and those not; it may be useful to be hit over the head with how little America learned from the previous creation/occupation of Iraq, courtesy of Gertrude Bell (Anna Rahn) and a British captain (Matthew Archambault): “Military occupations go wrong, they just do. Even when they begin with the best of intentions.” But it’s not as effective as the less-direct, casual (and causal) scenes that focus on AJ’s peers, particularly her best friend, Connie Mangus (Chudney Sykes). You can feel the tension when it’s not being discussed, see it in the way that Mangus and her buddies play five-card stud with worn, sandy cards and bullets for chips. Ask yourself which is a more convincing argument against gender stereotypes: examples quoted in a professor’s careful lecture or a sloppy group of soldiers sitting around in their fatigues, joking about their horrible childhood fashion senses (cowboy boots and a dashiki), laughingly throwing sexist jokes (“Gotta be a bitch, a whore, or a dyke”) back at their male counterparts.

Note the use of “ask yourself”midway in the paragraph; the way he uses the story of the soldier scene to make his case for him; the hedged bets at the beginning that allow the reader room to argue or agree based on their own experience.
It’s a great review, even though it’s a mixed review. So, read the whole thing here, then get your tickets, and leave your own thoughts on the play here. Only one more week!

1 Comment on "Ajax in Iraq Review: Aaron Riccio, That Sounds Cool"

  1. Andrew Utter · June 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm · Reply

    I applaud you for the equanimity with which you read and reflect on your reviews! It bespeaks a high level of comfort with yourselves as artsts, that you can examine criticism of your work in a public context on its merits. Hats off!

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