Sandra Tsing Loh

Sandra Tsing Loh

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 23 1999 3:38 PM

Sandra Tsing Loh

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I'm in recovery from my solo show Aliens in America, which just opened this weekend at the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles.

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That's right! Welcome to my week, which could be called "My Week in Reviews" ...

No, scratch that. The truth is, I don't really don't care what reviews come out about me this week--not anymore. I'm 14 years into what we laughingly called the one-person show "business," and I've learned that while some critics may like you and some critics may hate you, if you do a funny show, if you do a warm show, if you do an entertaining show, if the show runs no more than an hour and 15 minutes (this seems to be the magic number for the monologue), if you keep up the advertising ...

Audiences will find the show. After all, my last solo show in L.A., Bad Sex With Bud Kemp, got some really weird notices, and we sold out the six-week run (and made money) anyway!

Of course, Aliens is booked for a 12-week run; here we are in the armpit of August, and I did notice that this last Sunday matinee crowd was a bit slim ...

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But that was, of course, last weekend--before the reviews ... hit. (Ouch! What a word.)

Really, though, how bad can the notices be? When I first opened Aliens in America off-Broadway in 1996, at Second Stage Theatre (Bad Sex also premiered there), the reviews were uniformly good. Save one. Now it's three years later, I'm back in L.A., my hometown. I've got 150 more performances under my belt; the new version, directed by the brilliant David Schweizer, looks gorgeous ...

And yes, the good reviews did include the New York Times. That's right--the New York Times. Ben Brantley. He called Aliens "EXCEPTIONAL!" Actually, his exact words were: "Ms. Loh's story is both exceptional and very familiar. As her performance piece develops, in three self-contained sections, it becomes clear that her tale is less one of cultural conflict than of universal isolation." He ended the review by saying: "In the wake of all too many performance pieces about dysfunctional families ... Loh has at least managed to stake out an individual territory and style. She may be stranded in terra incognita, but the shape she has given it is her own." We scratched our heads a long time over that one. Indeed, it took me three years to come up with what I consider to be my lifetime masterwork of review excerpting: "EXCEPTIONAL!"--New York Times.

The bad review, by the way, was Clive Barnes of the New York Post. Barnes' review of Aliens, my maiden voyage in New York--which, as you may have gathered, is based on my family--was apparently so mean my Magic Circle of colleagues opted not to tell me about it. Unfortunately, a certain wildly e-mailing friend of mine was not in this Magic Circle. "Never mind that Clive Barnes!" she wrote, one day, out of the blue. "He's so mean! What does he know? The point is, I think you're great, and I know that maybe not all, but definitely many people were behind what you were trying to do the day I saw you. Forget the Clive Barneses of this world, girl! Shake it off! Sing your song! Tell your story!"

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Of course, it does seem that last weekend I faced a crop of reviewers who have particularly thorny track records, when it comes to this type of material.

Friday night I noticed a reviewer (you can always tell, their seats are taped off) we'll call "Jason Michaelson." Last year--and I'm paraphrasing, but not as much as you would think--Mr. Michaelson dubbed my performance style so garish that reasonable audiences could not possibly be persuaded to care about my work ever. I don't know what may change his mind this year, but ...

Saturday night's audience included an alternative weekly reviewer we'll call "Neville Winters." I myself have not had any experience with Mr. Winters, but at the after-party, an award-winning playwright turned to me and whispered: "Oh my God, Neville Winters--the loose cannon."

In the Sunday matinee's audience I saw a critic we'll call "Scott Barker," scribbling notes frantically. Barker is notable, in my mind, for having written the meanest salvo on solo performer Rick Reynolds I've ever read, perhaps the most savage attack on a solo performer ever. (Author note: Rick Reynolds is like a god to me.)

But you know ... it's L.A. We're not that terribly worried. Besides, even if all the new reviews tank, we've still got that blurb from New York. You know, "EXCEPTIONAL!" Maybe this week, with three exclamation marks.