In March of 1969, my parents, older brothers and I sat clutching our Playbills, waiting for the curtain to rise on a new musical at the 46th St. Theatre. My sister was a mere 3 year old at the time which meant she stayed home with Jessie. Rear orchestra seats were $25 each, a pretty extravagant birthday celebration for my brother. It was a good thing none of us were thirsty or hungry, because the telling of the story was about as lengthy as a hot summer in Philadelphia. Before the show began, my father offered me a square white candy from a blue foil pack of C. Howard’s peppermints. My mother tucked her ticket stub and Playbill into a black leather handbag then clasped it shut. In 1969, no one had to worry about turning off a cell phone. The entertainment unfolded on the stage, not in the audience.
One week ago, I had the privilege of attending a concert version of that same show, 1776, performed as part of New York City Center’s Encores! Series. Forty seven years later, the story of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence is still fascinating. The Encores! ensemble was first rate, particularly my college crony Ric Stoneback in the role of Samuel Chase. Far less appealing and downright appalling is how theatre-goers have changed. Not all of them, not even most of them, just enough to spoil it for the rest of us.
Much of City Center’s audience is composed of season ticket holders, theatre enthusiasts who faithfully attend year after year, sit in the same seats and respect the simple behaviors associated with good manners. Friday night’s crowd was more mature, and based on those seated around us, just the slightest bit fragile. Attempting to climb over a dozen individuals on the way to our seats, I was painstakingly trying not to bump into anyone. Without realizing and certainly without meaning to, my purse brushed up against a woman sitting in front of me. The City Center subscriber turned around, pointing her finger, scolding and calling me a “Dangerous Woman.” I apologized (for what I’m still unsure) and took my seat. The man seated to my right was as old as Mame’s best pal, Vera Charles; somewhere between 90 and …
Act I concludes with a poignant soldier’s song delivered by a courier for the Continental Army. A thirty-something woman seated in the row ahead of us had her handbag wide open, the glowing light of her cellphone blatant in the dark theatre. She was busy texting and talking to her husband, much to the frustration of an elderly man seated to her right. Quietly, the man, a City Center subscriber nudged the woman’s armrest with his Playbill, a subtle plea for her to stop. She didn’t stop, nor did her husband who told the subscriber to “shut up.”
Act I ended but not the Bickersons’ diatribe. I was dumbfounded, observing two individuals who clearly should have stayed home, hurling insults at a man old enough to be their grandfather. I looked at Blondilocks who looked at me and then we heard a familiar voice tell Mr. Bickerson to stop. A man who knows a thing or two about theatre operations, Mr. Sweet As Pie was chastising Mr. Bickerson. “You ruined it for all of us! Talking and texting, the light from your phone …”
Blondilocks and I (and now everyone seated in close proximity) watched as the enraged Mr. Bickerson abruptly turned around and threw a misguided punch at Mr. Sweet As Pie. Oh look- we’re witnessing a play within a play, but tell me, how on earth did we get here?
I blame it on the Sippy Cup. Somewhere around the year 2010, soon after Rock of Ages came screaming onto the Great White Way, it was decided; theatre goers will be allowed, no, encouraged to drink their way through two acts of a Broadway musical. And drink they do; wine, beer, liquor and soda. Don’t worry about the upholstery or the carpeting, there’s a lid on those cups.
Have something to drink, unwrap your cellophane crackling Twizzlers, rattle your bag of M&Ms. By all means, when everyone in the theatre is asked to turn off their cell phone, that couldn’t possibly mean YOU. You’re special; you’re the only one who may need to check with your babysitter/mother/late-to-the-theatre date/best friend/ex/instagram. And while you’re at it, please, sit directly in front of or next to or behind me. I insist.
The second act of 1776 continued without incident and without the Bickersons, who chose not to return. It turned out that the fellow who had been badgered by the ill-mannered cell-phoning-talk-texting couple was indeed a long time City Center subscriber. From what I could tell, he was a gentleman who loved the theatre and thought a gentle nudge on the armrest with a Playbill would stop the madness.
The madness continues. Just three nights ago, Blondilocks attended a performance at the Roundabout Theatre. Seated in front of her was a woman who spent the first twenty minutes of the performance having a little snack. As the cast of She Loves Me dazzled, a woman consumed a container of banana pudding purchased from the Magnolia Bakery. When she was finished, she left the cup and the plastic spoon on the armrest of her seat.
Ill mannered, badly behaved theatre patrons can be as prolific as rhubarb in April. I baked my first rhubarb pie of the season yesterday and was able to secure a case of the blush pink and lime green stalks for work. It’s unfortunate that I have no way to contact Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson from last week. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to bake them a fresh rhubarb pie; light on the sugar, liberal with the leaves.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm