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Gray Areas: Playing the role of dad, not critic, this weekend

Gray Areas

Andy Gray

Trumbull New Theatre has a show opening on Friday.

I’ll be there this weekend but don’t look for a review.

Reporters do their best to avoid conflicts of interest, and reviewing a show where your first-born child is in the cast certainly qualifies as a conflict of interest.

I guess it’s my own fault. When you raise your children to love and appreciate the arts, it’s not a surprise that they want to be a part of it. And getting to tag along with dad when he went to plays and concerts and other events certainly helped reinforce that appreciation in both of my daughters. They often debate over who gets to be my plus-1 — that is, when my wife doesn’t veto both of them.

TNT’s “Office Hours” offers a double whammy of conflicts because besides Anna, the cast also includes a co-worker, reporter Allie Vugrincic.

I’ve dealt with that before. At least once I had to review a play where my boss was in the cast (and sort of miscast).

That was a lot of fun.

At least she had a small role. Another time I had to review a co-worker in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” at TNT in 1998. As the title implies, there are only three people in the cast, which made it impossible to write around.

In both of those cases, I stated the conflict in the review, so readers at least had the information to decide whether the opinions being expressed were colored by the professional relationship with those cast members.

It’s a lesson I knew when I started this job more than 30 years ago, but it was reinforced early in my tenure.

A director who I was friendly with once invited me to join her and the cast at a local watering hole after the opening night performance. I knew it was a bad idea, but I didn’t realize just how awkward it would be until I was sitting at a table with a bunch of actors at whatever the bar / restaurant in the basement of the Park Hotel in downtown Warren was called at the time.

There’s only one question anyone wanted to ask me: What did you think of the show? And until I’ve decided how I want to express those opinions in print, that’s the last thing I want to talk about.

And in a bar on opening night, the only thing the people involved want to discuss are the crises and near crises that occurred during the show — the lines forgotten, the missing prop, the botched tech cues and the Herculean efforts everyone made to keep the audience from noticing those mistakes. No one wants to share those stories with the newspaper guy, especially when he hasn’t written that review yet.

So we all sat there awkwardly as I pondered, “How quickly can I finish this drink and come up with an excuse to leave without acknowledging the horrible mistake of showing up in the first place?”

I don’t remember what the show was. I don’t remember which theater did it (there are two possibilities). I don’t remember what I thought of the production. But I’ll never forget that post-show drink and have spent 30-plus years trying to avoid a repeat of it.

I’m usually one of the first people out of the theater when I’m reviewing a show, especially at theaters where the cast is mingling in the lobby. That dash doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or that I really have to go the bathroom and have a fear of going in public. It just means I don’t want to talk about something I haven’t written yet.

Saturday at TNT, I won’t have to make that dash. But if you ask what I thought of the show, the answer will be coming from a proud father, not a critic.

— Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.

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