Most RFT reviews are approximately 650 words, a space limitation that explains another fundamental reason actors sometimes don't get mentioned. The first RFT review I ever wrote was of She Loves Me at Stages St. Louis. Seven years later I can still feel the warmth of Whit Reichert's delicately rendered Mister Maraczek, the troubled owner of a European parfumerie. But I did not mention Reichert. By the time I had finished describing, among others, Kari Ely, Steve Isom and Ben Nordstrom, I had hit my word limit.

I could list many performers whom I regret not having included. Dennis Lebby has done fascinating work in featured roles at the Black Rep that I was unable to single out. Earlier this summer in my review of The Producers at the Muny, Angie Schworer was so delightful as the voluptuous Ulla that my review included an apology for having neglected to mention her in 2002, when she played the same role at the Fox. But of course, by giving Schworer extra space in my June review, I then had to omit mention of some of the other supporting characters in the Muny staging. Actors, especially those in featured roles, should never jump to the rash, insecure conclusion that because they are not mentioned in a review, the critic disliked them. But then, actors probably shouldn't be reading reviews anyway.

If a reviewer runs out of space in which to write about actors, imagine the problem of discussing designers. Too many times I have been chastised with a variation of the following: "You've done it now; your review mentioned the scenery and the lighting, but not the costumes, and the costume designer is really hurt." This is where that approach to checklist journalism works against a reviewer's ambitions, for it implies that reviews are written for those who toil in the vineyards. Whereas in fact, a critic's only allegiance is to the potential theatergoer.

Last month the ardent author Stuart W. Little died at age 86. In his New York Times obituary, Little's son observed that although his father had spent a lifetime writing about the New York theater, "he was proudest of the fact that he never became a critic. He wanted to be liked by people." Ouch. I never would have thought that criticism was a profession not to be proud of. But it's also true: A critic cannot expect to win popularity contests. For here's the all-too-apparent irony: In a job that seeks to strive for precision, reviewing is a highly imprecise endeavor. 

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