So, first; read this Performink article.
OK. I know both Terry McCabe and Kevin Heckman personally. I like, admire, and most importantly, trust both these men. I think Terry is asking a very valid question, and using Kevin purely as an example. I also doubt Kevin would intentionally write a review for a show in which he felt a vested interest one way or another.
However, I feel that Carrie Kaufman's (who I don't know) response is a little on the silly side. Especially in the "where's the competition" comments. It speaks of looking at the theatre community as a club, rather than a group of businesses. That distinction is one that every company in town struggles with, and the successful ones are those who approach things in a businesslike manner.
For the amount of theatres attempting to operate in Chicago, the audience is painfully small. Sadly, a huge part of that audience is members of our own community. The people showing up clutching a headshot to get that industry night discount. The very people who might read a review in a publication "geared toward the theatre community" and be swayed for or against it.
Yes, we are a tight knit community. It's part of what I love about Chicago. I love the people, I treasure most of the work I've done, and I respect the vast majority of the professionals I've been exposed to. However, I've never met a member of our community who didn't know EXACTLY who he or she liked, who they disliked, and, most importantly, who has "done them wrong."
At the heart, Terry's comment is correct. You can't look at this as anything but a conflict of interest. I find myself knowing someone involved, either on or backstage, in most of the shows I see advertised. The danger is not just that my opinion is poisoned against the show by somebody involved, but also in the fact I might be kinder to it for the same reason. I may write something on this blog, but these are my personal musings, and not subject to journalistic requirements.
I guess, at the end of the day, I question the point of reviews in Performink. A "review round-up" makes sense, a condensed selection of critical responses from other sources, but why add anything? Ms. Kaufman says the goal of the Performink reviews is thus:
"...what we settled on was a review structure that analyzes the show like a theatre person would in breaking it down to direct it or act it."
I understand that, but it seems to be that same goal would be more effectively accomplished by perhaps not a "review" but a one-on-one interview between the director and an outside director, or an actor and one from the audience. Let them discuss concepts and techniques, and what worked and what didn't, in an environment that might spark a real conversation, and not give the impression of judgement.