The situation : You have just seen two plays within a couple days of one another. In working on your reviews for these plays you find that there are central performances in both plays that you felt were off. However, in describing the performances you realize that in one case you commend the actor and blame the director for the choices made. In the second case you notice that you are putting all the fault on the actor's choices. What makes the difference? Is it fair for the reviewer to assign blame to one rather than another?
For me, in thinking about these two performances, the first Marya Sea Kaminski as Hedda Gabler in Hedda Gabler, the second Shawn Law as Brutus in Dirty Story, the distinction became more clear to me. Kaminski was fully executing clear bold choices in a production that was full of such bold choices. The miss in that production for me came down to the overall vision of Andrew Russell's direction - what I didn't like about Kaminski's take on Hedda paralleled all the other problems I had with the show.
Yet in Dirty Story Shawn Law's portrayal of Brutus, seemed quite a bit off in a production that was otherwise extremely tight. He played Brutus with a manic anger that wasn't called for in the script, a manic anger that came off to me more like an actor trying to keep himself at what he believes the level of his character's energy need to be rather than what the director necessarily asked for. So, unlike my assessment of Hedda Gabler, I found director Valerie Curtis Netwon's take on the John Patrick Shanley script to be uniformly consistent throughout and no external devises (like Hedda's odd dance-like hand movements in the other production) imposed on the actor playing Brutus by the director. Law was performing within the boundaries of Curtis Newton's direction but making small choices with his energy on how to portray the character's frustration (again, mostly coming off as manic anger) that corrupted that performance for me.
Is this completely subjective? Of course. I assume many could see these same two performances and come out with completely different, if not entirely opposite takes.