By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Oct 11, 2016 at 11:03 AM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

I made a mistake and I’m sorry.

I want to get that out of the way before examining an interesting discussion that began over the weekend, sparked by my review of "Dracula vs. the Nazis," which opened Friday night at In Tandem Theatre.

I did not like the play and said so, but that was not the discussion started by actor James Pickering and his wife, actor Tami Workentin.

Two members of the audience, sitting front row center and the guests of the couple that sponsored the show, spent most of the evening sleeping. I wrote about it and mentioned, by name, the couple that graciously sponsored the production.

I have affection and unbridled respect for both Pickering and Workentin. They are among the very best actors we have in this city with long and accomplished records.

Here is the text of the talkback and Facebook post they made.

"We think this review exceeds the brief of the critic. However much you deplored the quality of the play and the performance, you went out of bounds by pointing out personal details of members of the audience, citing the names of benefactors in such a way as you have. This sort of reporting comes perilously close to violating the 'talkback terms and conditions' listed by OnMilwaukee – rules we feel you should follow in writing the very notices we read and respond to. This is attack journalism,' Dave, and it is not worthy of you." – Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin"

Pickering and Workentin raise an important issue and I am tempted to respond with a blanket defense of what I wrote. But I think they made a valid point and clearly have opened a discussion of both the role and practice of theatrical criticism.

Let me start by saying I think I did make a mistake by naming the sponsors of the play. I regret doing it. I also think mentioning that guests of the sponsoring couple were sleeping is unnecessary. Just saying that two audience members in front row center slept through much of the play would have been equally as revealing without personal identification of the two.

Despite their rude behavior (sleeping) they do have an implicit right to privacy and I think I violated that. Again, I’m sorry about doing that.

In my early journalism career I covered professional sports – football, basketball and baseball. I can remember countless occasions when I mentioned either a crowd going crazy after a spectacular moment or booing frantically at some obvious problem with the home team.

I think people who pay money to watch games are entitled to both expressions and I think writing about those expressions is part and parcel of comprehensive coverage of an event.

Is a play in a theater different than a sporting event in an arena? Certainly. But there are also similarities.

Both are events staged not only for the participants, but also for an audience that pays money to watch. Athletes talk about the vocal support of fans adding to their ability to play the game. Actors have audiences that are much less vocal but are valued, nonetheless. Actors talk about the ability and importance of reaching and touching an audience.

I frequently mention the reaction of an audience, most often in a positive sense. In the currently running production of "Man of La Mancha" at The Rep, the audience rose as one after the song "The Impossible Dream" came to a soaring end. The reaction of the audience was part of the total theatrical experience of the night.

I believe that criticism has a role to play in the theatrical landscape of a city. Milwaukee has a vibrant theatrical community and intelligent and honest criticism has a role in that.

But, as I said, it is possible for a critic to go overboard, and this was one of those cases.

I can admit that a big part of my disappointment with the play was that I have such respect for In Tandem, which has staged some memorable performances in the past. Every time I attend a play there I expect and hope to be marvelously entertained. With such an abject failure this time, my feelings of disappointment ran deep.

There is a lesson to be learned here, mainly by me. A critic has a role to play to report on what he thought about a play. There are no inviolate values to theatrical criticism.

But care must be exercised to avoid involving people who are not an intimate part of the production. They must feel free to react as they will without the chance that a critic will include them in the review.  

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.