Miss Manners: Amateur performances must be acknowledged with gentle touch

December 15, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I attended a play that a friend of mine (and acquaintance of my husband) appeared in last night. It was truly awful acting from the entire cast, and she, unfortunately, was not very good at all.

My husband chose to register his displeasure at being there by the look on his face, believing that hiding true emotions is deceptive and thus ethically bad. He is of the “I’d rather be brutally honest” category — underscore the word “brutally.”

My opinion is just to make the most of the situation and support my friend in her efforts at acting. So when the end of the night came around, I told my friend that she did a fabulous job, as I’m neither the director nor a professional theater critic (the two proper venues for registering criticism and not, say, on one’s own face?).

Of course, my husband thinks my response ridiculous and, I guess, it makes him uneasy about my ethics barometer. Would you mind adjudicating? Maybe offer a statement for me to use in a case like this, especially when I’m introduced to the rest of the cast at the end of the night and expected to make some kind of comment on the actors’ performances in addition to my friend’s?

GENTLE READER: What would your husband recommend you to say — “Don’t quit your day jobs”?

No, Miss Manners is guessing that would not be quite frank enough for him. The actors might take it for a joke and not be hit with the full realization of how dreadful he found their attempts.

His argument is that the expression of his feelings is a virtue that justifies trampling on other people’s feelings. Social life, under this rule, would allow people to take leave of their hosts saying, “Frankly, I was never so bored in my life,” and to congratulate bridal couples saying, “You must really have been desperate.”

Oh, sure, that sounds like fun — until you are on the receiving end.

As you point out, you were not there as critics, but as friends. Backstage, “You were marvelous” is merely an expected courtesy, not to be taken seriously as a critique.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the current etiquette regarding using red ink to write and sign personal (not business) correspondence, including letters, notes, greeting cards (e.g., birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, thank-you cards, invitations, etc.)? When I was in school in the 1950s, I recall being told that red ink was rude and threatening and should never be used in correspondence of any kind.

GENTLE READER: Red ink may give you a rude awakening when it appears in your financial records or on the papers you get back from your teacher. On its behalf, Miss Manners would argue that it is only the means of conveying an unpleasant truth.

But surely it is entitled to a holiday from that grim duty. Merry Christmas and kind wishes, written in red ink, are not rude.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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