Dec 7, 2007

The Fourth Wall Breaks the Other Way

We've all heard cellphones go off during a performance. We've heard candy wrappers open, and open, and open (something in the indoor air of theatres seems to make candy wrappers more sticky). We've heard that weird hearing-aid whine. Most of us have probably heard people mutter comments aloud they may think we can't hear (and the just-as-annoying, if justified "shushes" that follow them). And surely we've noticed that when a character lights a cigarette onstage, a certain number of patrons suddenly break out in coughing fits. But last night at Playwrights Horizons, I think I witnessed a first: A patron spoke directly to an actor onstage, in a clear, intelligible voice. Her words:
Why don't you put out that cigarette?

The actors paused noticeably and took this information in. The actor with the cigarette seemed clearly to be weighing his moves, as if he were contemplating whether to extinguish the offending item or ride out the scene at the risk of further opprobium. An awkward moment, to say the least. As we head into the weekend, I freely invite your favorite theatrus-interruptus anecdotes--the dreadfuller the better.


Anonymous said...

At the San Francisco Fringe Festival many years ago, there was a one-woman show about Dorothy Parker. As the actor took the stage, she pulled out a cigarette, at which point a stentorian male voice in the front row could be heard: "PLEASE don't light that up!" She handled it extremely graciously (i.e., she didn't kill him outright and gnaw on his self-righteous innards, as I would have been tempted to do). Instead, she handed the offending item to him and said "There you go, darling."

And this second one isn't mine directly, but a story from a friend in Chicago. She saw Austin Pendleton in the title role of "Uncle Vanya" at Steppenwolf a few years ago (in their smaller and more intimate Upstairs space, which at that time was configured in the round -- now it's a permanent proscenium). Somewhere in his first scene, Vanya says "I'm 47 years old." And this woman sitting in front of my friend said, full voice, "He looks EIGHTY!"

Which, from what I hear, caused Pendleton's to react a bit. I mean, he had to have heard it. Everyone in the damn theater probably heard it.

People. Whaddya do?


Anonymous said...

When I was in college In Jackson, Mississippi(about 150 years ago), our modest theatre department was putting on "Picnic." It was staged in the round on the stage of an old proscenium theatre/auditorium (audience seating put on the stage itself), so the audience was quite close. I was working backstage, but when the two actors playing Madge & Hal came offstage after they kissed, our Hal said, "When we kissed, some old lady said, 'Did they part lips?' I almost lost it!" When we peeked through the blacks to see who it was, I was mortified to discover that it was my 80-year-old grandmother talking in an exaggerated stage whisper to my aunt! They didn't hear a response from my aunt, but I've always wondered if my grandmother would have had more to say if the answer had been yes. That moment haunted me for the rest of my college career.

This at the college where Eudora Welty, who lived in the neighborhood, came to every play produced there. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure she wasn't there that night, although the scene might have turned up in a short story at some point. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

Forgot about this one.

I was doing delightful outdoor theatre in East Tennessee -- a version of the Passion Play, running in rep with "Damascus Road", the story of the apostle Paul, and "Fiddler on the Roof" (that's a bit of a joke setup in and of itself).

Anyway, one night when the Passion Play was up, it was raining pretty hard. Now we're in a big amphitheatre set into a hill near the Smoky Mountains. All the busloads of Baptists were settled in and were not to be deterred. Shortly after the show began(in the rain), a gentleman near the front of the audience stood up, raised his arms to the sky, and said in a very loud, clear voice, "In the name of Jesus, STOP THIS RAIN!!!" Funny thing is, it stopped raining shortly thereafter. One never knows, do one?

Ian Mackenzie said...

At Toronto's lovely Taragon theatre in 1999 – about 10 or so minutes from the end of an overlong, over-earnest piece of Canadiana, one disgruntled member of the auidence rose to his feet and shouted, "This is insulting crap." And stormed out of the theatre.

The actors on stage stopped in apparent shock, and watched him walk out of the theatre.

It was the most memorable moment of the evening – and a real shocker.


Anonymous said...

At the New Reperoty Theatre in Boston, I was attending "Frozen" in which one of the characters repeatedly smoked on stage. Midway into the first act, a woman in her fifties or sixties sitting two rows behind me in the orchestra section started audibly groaning and mumbling. I did the standard, turn and look over the shoulder glare a few times. As tension built and another cigarette was lit, the audience member shouted to the actress onstage, "Put it Out!" Much shushing ensued and thankfully intermission came soon thereafter, at which point I confronted the offending audience member. Telling her that it was NEVER acceptable to shout at the actors onstage (this wasn't Rocky Horror!), I and now a supportive mob gathered to tell her we were neither amused nor willing to let her continue. She complained that smoking kills and her husband who was with her spoke of lung cancer issues. I said to her regardless of her beliefs, she didn't have the right to ruin the play for the rest of us, and she could leave, send a letter of complaint and even demand a refund (which I practically guaranteed her that the theatre would grant). Many of my fellow audience members came to my aide and mentioned the notices in the lobby about smoking and in the program. Thankfully, the lady left the theatre at intermission. Later, I heard that the incident was mentioned in the stage manager's nightly report and I was identified as "a supportive audience member". To this day, when I see that actress who is a friend of mine, I shout "Put it Out" instead of "bravo" after her performances and we both have a laugh!

Anonymous said...

The note from Praxis reminds me of another friend's experience.

She was in a community production of "The Music Man" somewhere in southern California. During the "Iowa Stubborn" number, a man in the audience stood up and started yelling about how the song was insulting and that he was from Iowa and he knew that people from Iowa weren't stubborn. (Clearly.)

He was escorted out. But I'm still delighted at the thought that a community production of "The Music Man" could provide an occasion of controversy.