Dear Ms. Rebeck, Alan Rickman, Lisa Rabe et seq., the Cast of A Winter’s Tale performed in Stratford in March of 1999, the audience for Rent in Richmond in the late 90s, and others…
Over the years I have seen more than my fair share of plays and musicals. As You Like It, Othello, A Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, a ballet of Taming of the Shrew, American Buffalo, A Steady Rain, Time Stands Still, Arcadia, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Betrayal, War Horse, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Jekyll and Hyde, Man of La Mancha, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Martin Guerre, Wicked, Rent, Promises Promises, South Pacific, On a Clear Day, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Fame, Porgy and Bess, Turandot, Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway, Buddy, Million Dollar Quartet, Ragtime, Stomp…
And I know I’m forgetting at least five or ten more. With the exception of Julius Caesar, which I saw at VCU, all of those were professional productions. If you want to count High School, add Once on this Island, The Tempest, The Seagull, A Little Night Music, Pirates of Penzance, and The Dollhouse. If you want to include college productions featuring my brother: Fifth of July and… oh what was it. A show about the Civil War. He died quickly, but brilliantly.
At any rate, I have seen some plays. I love theatre. I particularly love to enjoy theatre. I’m not going to sing along unless asked by Hugh Jackman, but I will cry. I will laugh. I will make my enjoyment known, within reason.
Perhaps I can, at times, over-enthuse. And perhaps this is the reason a woman sitting near me during a production of Seminar, which I saw this past Saturday, gave me a dirty look. Well, perhaps that’s harsh, but she definitely signaled to me to, in the words of SNL, ‘simma down now.’ I would by lying if I said I did not feel immediately ashamed, confused, and hurt.
I continued to enjoy the play, but I stopped laughing out loud. Which is quite a shame because it really was an extraordinarily funny play. The last time I remember laughing (or rather, desiring to laugh) that much was a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Ford’s Theatre in D.C. Furthermore, since I saw Picasso twice, I know that it is not merely a matter of having a witty play. The cast must be on. Chemistry and timing and the ability to feed off each other is not something which can be forced. Either the play will be exceedingly sharp and entertaining, or it will merely flit by as you notice ‘Hmm. That was a bit amusing.’
Had this been a one-off, I certainly wouldn’t have decided to write a blog entry about it… but I had a similar experience in Stratford many, many years ago. My friends and I went on a Literary England tour with our school. We saw a brilliant production of A Winter’s Tale and the next day saw the actors–or at least we *assume* they were the actors. We went up to them, gushed about how much we enjoyed the performance, and were met with stony silence and stares. To this day I don’t know if we actually made some terrible, inexcusable faux pas, or had inadvertently complimented a group of non-English speaking tourists who simply looked like some of the actors.
So at this juncture… I’ll confess to be a little confused. I can see both sides: theatre is serious and you should comport yourself seriously. Clap but a little, laugh lightly… and never approach the actors.
But I’m also a writer. If I write something which makes someone laugh I want to know. Not for vanity, but so I can do it again. Orson Scott Card once said he could always tell when an audience was actually enjoying his plays because they wouldn’t move. They would ignore uncomfortable seats; they wouldn’t shift their legs; they would sit, raptured until the end. And he would watch. So he could know whether he had won them over or not.
Perhaps people who mostly write fiction and poetry and other more removed things crave reaction because we so rarely get to observe it? Maybe real playwrights and real actors prefer the glass wall and dampened reaction? Is it gauche when an audience gushes?
I honestly don’t know. And I guess it doesn’t really matter, in the end. I loved the play. The terms interiority and exteriority will make me giggle for the rest of my life. I have a story right now at Tin House, I have a friend at the Macdowell Colony. The play registered with me in a way that very, very few plays have. Alan Rickman embodied all my favorite writing teachers–the lines were withering, yes. They were destructive, yes. They were cruel and terrible but that’s what writing instructors can do for your own good. If you’ve been writing the same story for 6 years, it is BEYOND time to move on. And sometimes you need to get angry, you need to want to prove someone wrong, before you can move forward.
Anyway, I’m rambling a lot. Basically I just wanted to use my tiny, tiny corner of the internet to say the following:
Ms. Rebeck, your play made me laugh so hard that I pissed someone off.
Mr. Rickman, Ms. Rabe, and the other actors whose names were too long for me to remember how to spell: your performances were so brilliant and well timed that I apparently was overly enthusiastic in my joy. I didn’t laugh after Mr. Rickman came on stage–but this was out of embarrassment, not lack of enjoyment.
To the possibly non-English speaking individuals in Stratford back in March of ’99: If you were actors and we simply had disturbed your peace. I apologize.
To the people who left during intermission at Rent in Richmond back in the late 90s: You did know the play was about homosexuals and Bohemians and AIDS when you bought the tickets didn’t you? Or maybe not. Hmm. The music was a bit loud, overpowering the voices of the actors. I still loved it, but I also knew all the lyrics.
To Hugh Jackman: It’s good to know that there are other, serious actors who are as jubilant when it comes to theatre as I am.
To Elaine Stritch: I love you. I’ve seen ‘Live at Liberty’ so many times I practically have it memorized.
To everyone else: Go see a play. It’s good for you.