Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"She's a strong actor."

That is an excellent compliment. When we call someone's ability strong, we are suggesting that we ourselves are equipped to assess -- we have knowledge in the matter and our comment is not naive: We are actors, we know acting, and we are qualified to say she is a strong actor. To call someone's ability strong suggests we are peers, that we have as much confidence in the person as we do in ourselves. No need for status games, let us be frank: You do some thing, I do the same thing as you, let us assess ourselves as equals... and I assess that you are strong. We have seen hundreds of performances -- or have painted dozens of canvasses, read hundreds of poems, played thousands of chords -- so we know how things fit in the broad context. To call someone's ability strong means we are exercising fair judgement. "Meryl Streep is the greatest actor ever!" Perhaps. Some might say Elizabeth Taylor. Some might say Eleonora Duse. Some might say the woman who acts in Burmese theatre and is known only in Rangoon. To say someone is the greatest is arguable. To say someone is strong is convincing. It is an opinion that lacks passion and emotion, that instead engages reason and consideration. To say someone is strong is to give them a sound, sturdy compliment that is fashioned from intellect, not blurted by the heart. In fact, it is not so much a compliment as it is a positive assessment. How bland, then:

"You gave a strong performance."

How middling. Perhaps. But no. To call someone strong does not take away from the compliment, but rather adds credence to the gesture, honesty to the intention. It is more sincere than "amazing".

"You were amazing!" someone tells you. And you reply, "Thank you," with downcast eyes to suggest modesty when in fact your eyes have turned inward with doubt to ask yourself, frightfully, "Was I really?"

But: "You were strong," someone tells you. And you can reply, "Thank you. I won't argue."

1 comment:

Stella Trout said...

Thank you for that. You point out the possibility of both pretension and sincerity in such a fully loaded word. Strong.