A friend and I went to see a play last night. If writer, cast and crew were complete strangers, this post would be an excoriating exposé of a wasted evening. Names would be named and reputations rubbished. I would get a warm glow of self-righteousness from setting out exactly what went wrong from start to finish and would award myself a pleasant glass of wine when the last full stop was reached and the Publish button clicked. (For an example, all you have to do is read the post previous to this one.)
The writer's main problem is that he doesn't understand the full implications of his story and does little more than throw several ideas in the air, letting them fall to the ground instead of following them through. To take one example: a character brings an apple onstage. Given the context in which he carries it, that apple is inherently fraught with meaning and possibilities. I watched the apple. I waited for the apple to return to the story, to move it forward. But no, the apple is left on a table, touched briefly later in the play and its mystery remains.
At the end of the first act, I looked forward to the second half for the resolution not just of the apple, but of other dangling issues - while I simultaneously feared that the rest of the play would meander as hopelessly as the first. To my surprise - and that of my companion and, I think, several other members of the audience - the cast suddenly assembled for their final bow. We applauded dutifully and thankfully and made our way upstairs. A quick huddled discussion - if we stayed, what could we say to author and cast? - and we were out the door, following others who, we were sure, had come to the same conclusion we had.
Am I a coward for not wanting to identify the play or the actors? Why am I willing to be harsh with strangers but not with acquaintances? It is not that I fear losing a friendship - we only know each other professionally and not very well. It is more that having been polite and sociable with someone I cannot find it within me to upset them even in the name of honesty. Of course, he might have asked "what did you think? give me your honest opinion", in which case I would have put the above points as delicately as I could. But if his ego is as fragile as most in the theatre, it is unlikely he would have place himself in that vulnerable position. Instead, he would have turned his puppy-dog eyes on me and said "did you like it?" I wouldn't have had the heart to say no and perhaps that's where the cowardice comes in.