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Can a theatre addict and a casual viewer learn to get along?
As an obsessive theatregoer, I've always taken my responsibility as an audience member very seriously. The phone ringers and candy unwrappers, chronic sneezers and hacking coughers, those who laugh at nothing and the ones who leap to their feet for no reason whatsoever, all irk me. For years, I believed they were The Others: philistines sent to jeopardize the sanctity of the boards. I was the patron who understood his role, sitting ramrod straight and attentive in my seat, chin slightly upturned. Should part of a prop fall into my lap -- a piece of cork, a scrap of paper -- I treated it like an artifact from another dimension, a place of wonder that I adored. I even adopted Frederick Exley's credo from A Fan's Notes: "I understood…that it was my destiny to sit in the stands with most men and acclaim others. It was my fate, my destiny, my end, to be a fan."
But then, like a clueless actor saying "Macbeth" backstage, I fell victim to a curse. Inside a darkened theatre one evening, a cell phone began to chirp. I glanced around for the offender and shook my head. People…they're the worst. Through a fog of righteous indignation, I eventually processed the brightly lit screen beside me, my fiancée fumbling for the off button. The spine-tingling shame that followed has never quite left me.
The actor onstage broke character immediately. "Will-you-shut-that-thing-off!? Thank you!" He seemed close enough to touch, this thespian pausing in the middle of tears to administer justice before returning to the land of make believe. I don't recall much after that. I may have suffered a bout of hysterical blindness, although I do remember our swift exit from the theatre, a small, dank basement on a quiet street in the Village. There was a curtain of some sort, a polite round of applause, and then a quick getaway up a narrow flight of stairs. The climactic escape from The Shawshank Redemption came to mind. We hit the welcome gloom of a hot, cobblestone street and seethed at one another.
"I can't believe you did that!"
"It wasn't me! It turned itself on."
"Who was on the phone, your mother? It's always your mother."
"Hey, watch it. Anyway, he should never break character. Yale Drama, sure, pal. You should have tossed him into the audience."
"You should have had your cell phone off!"
"I told you, it turned itself on!"
"Honey, we're teachers in New York City. We tell kids to put phones away for a living."
And so it went. It was her. It was me. It was Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library. I'd call out every infraction, minor to her, major to me. Eventually, our friends started calling us Mr. and Mrs. Booth, as in John Wilkes. We were those people now, a pair of theatre thugs, and I was inconsolable.
Then one night I had a revelation. We were attending another performance in orchestra seats, my beloved there beside me in a deep, peaceful slumber, her small frame sinking lower and lower into her overpriced chair. I nudged her awake. "Shakespeare? Really? I thought you loved teaching this play."
She craned her neck, realizing where she was. "I do, sweetie, but Caitlyn Jenner's no Lady Macbeth."
"That-is-not Caitlyn Jenner!"
As we headed home beneath the stars and the moon and the lovely breeze rolling off the Hudson, it hit me. Relationships are all about compromise. Perhaps it was high time to accept our fate as the Lucy and Ricky of NYC theatregoing.
When we reached the subway, I called out to her. "Hey."
"I hear Patti LuPone's playing Lincoln Center this summer."
"So?" she responded, not understanding my reference.
I pointed to the phone in her hand. "Why don’t we give her a ring during act one?"
Maybe our daughter will inherit the theatre-addict gene from her old man. There's always hope.
JB McGeever's work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Southampton Review, and Writer's Digest. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.