Hilton Als and I have a deal (he doesn't know; it only benefits me), which is that he writes about theater performances in New York that I will never see and I read his reviews anyway because he is usually writing about performance in general in a way that is engaging enough that whether he influences you to see or avoid the performance is almost beside the point. Through reading Hilton Als articles, I have learned a lot about how to watch actors, how to find the fingerprints of a director, and when you can wholeheartedly blame the writer. I was stunned a couple years ago to learn that he is a sweet-faced gay black man not much older than I am, which is funny because if pressed I am sure I have no idea what I was picturing but each of those things surprised me, so maybe a wiry older straight white man, Van Dyke beard and a tendency to look over his glasses at things? Who knows. I like that I have a picture of him now in my head when I read his writing.
What I like about Hilton Als is that he teaches me to look at and think about theater in a way that of course applies to any performance and in fact to life. Chekhov's gun is everywhere. Watch the edges. Listen for the curtain. But I do also appreciate the little bits of him that slip into the critiques and what is interesting is how often I feel MORE connected to him when this happens, because we're pretty different. But he knows himself, and he knows the human experience because he knows how to observe it, and that is how he can write sentences like this, from a September review of "This Is Our Youth":
How can two people get close to each other in the minefield of their unspoken doubts and fears and the back-stories they're unwilling to share?
or even better:
We have all left home; we have all tried to make love suffer by turning our backs on it, if only to prove how little we need or deserve its warm, brutalizing complexities.
And I felt like: ohhhh, yes, WE HAVE. I have. I needed that. And if I had skipped this review because I am not in New York, not a particular fan of Michael Cera or Kieran Culkin, and don't have any special interest in Kenneth Lonergan, either, I would have missed that sentence.
Anyway that's one of the reasons sometimes it takes me a ridiculously long time to read the New Yorker.