Live theater has a unique energy that film just can’t capture: both audience and actors share the excitement of the adrenaline of the moment; of life happening right in front of you. Anything can happen. Sometimes, anything does happen.
I was playing a leading role in a somewhat famous play at a theater known, as some theaters are, to have a ghost. I had witnessed no supernatural events, but the legend added to the experience, nevertheless, as we all could wonder what might next move the spirit to make itself known. The phantom never showed and one seat always remained empty. Or was the ghost merely completely invisible and attended every show? We never knew.
What was painfully clear is that the ghost was not the only thing that haunted this theater. Without fail, on Sunday matinees, the crowd that collected had a fair share of what is unkindly called “blue-hairs”. Now I like to think of senior citizens enjoying an afternoon of theater in a celebratory fashion, not a derogatory one. While one cast member mumbled, like a doomed Dorothy “Walkers and crutches and canes—oh, my!” I remained steadfast in my love and respect; we would all be old one day and god bless them for coming. That was my general sensibility.
However, this particular matinee truly tried my temperament. It was intermission and we had already heard a baker’s dozen crackling candy wrappers, a cane crash to the floor, and the usual “What did he say?” innumerable times when the stage manager came back to inform us that the hiatus would be extended to allow for some clean-up: one old woman had decided—rather than make the effort to go to the ladies’ room—to conveniently relieve herself in the audience. She had apparently stood up and simply let the golden shower go. I suppose one could say the circumstances were quite lucky: she was in the back, so not too many people noticed and, because she stood, at least she didn’t ruin a seat. One cast member had just finished performing in “Urinetown: The Musical”. He was as disappointed as the rest of us to discover he was now in “Urinetown: The Reality Show”.
As if this were not enough to—excuse the term—dampen our spirits, we got word that enough of the older folks were complaining that they couldn’t hear. This sent my marvelously talented, if histrionic, costar into a state of indignant disbelief.
“How could they not hear me?” she bellowed. “I have the loudest mouth of anyone I know!”
No one disagreed. We were all getting—excuse the term—pissy. Audiences had no trouble hearing us previously; we weren’t suddenly whispering just for kicks. If these people had bad hearing, they should have known it before today and either requested front row seats or invested in hearing aides. Now they weren’t just incontinent, they were deaf as well. And kvetching, no less!
I made a mental note that I would try to raise my volume a bit, but that I was not going to alter my performance for a few, ill-equipped old goats. (So much for my compassionate consideration.) My costar, on the other hand was resolute: if they couldn’t hear her before, they sure as hell were going to hear her now. I smiled, letting her blow off steam. I figured all would be fine once Act Two got going.
I was wrong. We walked out on stage together. I said my first line, possibly slightly louder than usual. I was then blasted across the stage by the sound barrier as my costar brayed her line with the subtitle: CAN . . . YOU . . .
HEAR . . . ME . . . NOW . . . YOU . . . OL D . . . DEAF . . . MOTHER F*@KERS??? She over-enunciated every word at such a ridiculous volume, I wondered if some of the younger audience members worried that my leading lady had suffered a stroke during intermission. Regardless what any of us thought, for the rest of the play, my costar performed each line as though she were trapped in a sick, slow motion while trying to explain something to a foreigner who didn’t speak English. Her whole body writhed with her effort; she practically used sign language. It was exhausting to watch. And hilarious. I couldn’t look at her. I could hardly concentrate on my lines. Not only had our show been peed on, now I was acting with a gorgon on methadone who thought she was a female Barney.
The second act dragged an interminable agony. It took my costar twenty minutes to get through three sentences. I have never had to fight laughter so hard. I thought I might pee my pants as well; it seemed de rigueur. By the time we got to the end, the poor woman was wrecked. For that matter, so was I. Oddly enough, we both got rather rousing applause. I’ll never know if they were applauding our acting or our stamina. Maybe they were just happy it was over. God knows I was.
A curious coda: as we took our final bows, out of the corner of my eye, I swore I saw a silhouetted figure in the phantom’s seat...giving us a standing ovation.
But he may have just been peeing.