Live theater is an interesting beast. It is a creature that has survived well beyond its natural life-span, most often sustained on a life support of grants, sponsors, and donations, and when compared to the total population of our country, it can be said that only a small percentage have seen one of these mythical monsters with their own eyes. However, live theater is always changing, and on rare occasions utilizes a new concept or intriguing story to lure inexperienced patrons into its belly. Last night, my friend, Renee, and I were fortunate to sit in front of live theater’s newest victims, two elderly women who were obviously unaccustomed to the etiquette required when digesting a live performance.
As I took my seat, I was taken aback by my first encounter with the dowdy, old woman who will heretofore be referred to as Bessy. Donned in simple attire with a thin, light blue windbreaker draped over her lap, she viewed the pre-show performance through a pair of large, camouflage hunting binoculars pressed against her bespectacled eyes despite sitting relatively close to the stage in the orchestra section.
The conversations with her companion that pled to be overheard ranged from the everyday trails of being 83 years old to the news that someone stole a washing machine from her front yard. It was frustratingly evident that Bessy preferred the sound of her own voice over that of the professionally trained voices Renee paid many cash dollars for us to hear. When Bessy wasn’t gabbing with her companion, she chatted into her antiquated phone. Thankfully, ten minutes beyond the official start time of the show, Bessy informed her last caller, “I’ve got to go. The show’s starting.” I refrained from pointing out to Bessy that her verbiage should have been “the show HAD ALREADY STARTED”, but after a loud clap of her flip phone snapping shut, I allowed myself to believe that I could finally begin enjoying the show without distraction.
Even though more people coughed in the Orpheum Theatre’s auditorium last night than in the entire theatrical run of the 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie, Outbreak, I inconspicuously drifted into the raw, acoustic world of Once. The talent of the cast as well as the charisma of the story and music greatly exceeded my low expectations. But then, a slow crackling from directly behind me faded into notice. My mind associated the noise with flames devouring dry wood and brush and for a brief moment became alarmed; however, I did not smell smoke. My findings after turning to investigate the source of this distraction was Bessy’s companion leisurely unraveling a hard candy encased in cellophane so supernaturally stiff that it must have been manufactured by the Gods. I assumed Bessy’s companion reveled in torturing everyone’s theater experience within earshot because this annoyance unfurled for so long and with such devotion for attention, I expected her to be cited in the program:
It wasn’t until 10 pm before Bessy demonstrated the extent of her social ineptness again. I know this because that was when she announced to her companion, “It’s 10 pm” for some reason, her tone indicative of telling your children it’s bedtime. This made me ponder the significance of this time for Bessy and her companion. Did their retirement community have a strict curfew? If they were late, how would the elderlies be disciplined? If they were punished, then how? Would they be grounded from buffets? Would they be restricted from yelling at kids to get off their lawn? I cursed Bessy for making me waste the next five minutes pondering a high-security retirement home run by Dickensian authority figures.
During the show’s final number, the amalgamation of song, story, and performance dared to reach into the sludge of my soul. It began to pull free something that felt beautiful. There was a tingle in my throat. My eyes threatened to well with tears. ‘Just let it happen, Cary,’ I thought to myself after Girl quietly greeted her piano. ‘It’s okay to cry.’ After all, when art can orchestrate an emotional experience (whether through song, dance, or canvas), it is a blessing. Just as I prepared to let go and sacrifice my stoicism to this beast’s enchantment, I was pulled out of my trance by the rustling of Bessie’s blue windbreaker. A brief swish of her low-end, polyester fabric would have been forgivable; however, Bessie continued to wrestle with the light jacket so much I began to wonder if she was, in fact, pitching a tent. This, unfortunately, continued until the end of the song. Instead of crying, I ended up releasing a quiet bubble of laughter in response to the situation that resembled a single sob. Close enough, I guess.
After the show, Renee and I followed the crowd out of the theater and into the rainy night. As we huddled beneath my umbrella, we shared our favorite moments from the show. Not far outside of the theater, near the intersection of Main and Beale Street, a low hanging branch doused in rainwater caught hold of the three inch tip protruding from the top of my umbrella. I felt the resistance and pulled my umbrella forward with enough force to suddenly free it from the grabby branch. What followed was an choir of moans and shouts of disapproval as the branch snapped back into place, spraying the large, nicely-dressed crowd behind me with cold rainwater. I briefly struggled with whether I should turn and apologize or keep walking. I decided to keep walking. I guess we can all be assholes from time to time whether we intend to be or not.
by Cary Vaughn (2014)