Monday, April 23, 2012

I hate live theater

Really?  Can I really suspend this much disbelief? No.

One of the things that I deal with on a fairly frequent basis is that people seem to think that simply because I'm gay, I like the theatre.  They are always trying to give me tickets to the grade "Z" Broadway series that travel through Columbus, Ohio, or get me to go to their local community theater's productions.

"What do you mean you don't love theater," they state rhetorically. "You're gay - you're supposed to love theater!"

"I'm a man, and a man is supposed to supposed to love women," I answer.  And then I remind them of the lesson of the platypus and to never count on nature to be consistent.

Truth be told - I not only have a fairly strong hatred of live theater, but I tend to avoid any sort of live performances at all.  This includes being around people who whip out guitars and try and impress you with their chords and music that touches their soul.  

I blame most of this on my upbringing which was knee deep in attending all sorts of shows, and worse yet being in these shows.

Shaker Heights schools were very big on exposing us to the arts, so we were always being loaded onto a bus to go see this and go see that.  One trip was to see Marcel Marceau, only to have him take the stage without his make up and talk to the 2,000 students in the theater about the "illusion of the theater".  Great if you're in high school student in a drama class.  But we were in third grade, and I found it boring.  In fourth grade? They hauled our asses to the high school to see a production of A Dolls House.

And then there were the little theaters and community theaters in the suburbs that surrounded Shaker Heights.  Of course Shaker had to be different, so we had no "little theatre", instead we had the Shaker Players, which in some way was an attempt to be different.  Evidently, someone got the idea that "theatre" implied a building, while "players" implied raw talent.  Ah, yes: the "Theatah" and the "Dahnse".

At some point I figured out that for the actors, being on stage meant more to them than to me in the audience  and my dislike of theater was born.

In my youth, Fiddler on the Roof was a constant.  At any given point in the calendar, somewhere within ten minutes, some poor schmuck had been packed into peasant gear and was reaching into the very marrow of his being to live up to the posters in the grocery stores that claimed he was Tevia!  And after the show he would hop in his Sedan D'Ville and drive home to his wife and children, read the paper, eat something, take a dump and go to bed. If I were were a rich man?  If I were played by Norm Richmond, is more like it.  In fact, so many of the men who went to our temple played Tevia one year, our Reform Jewish congregation stated looking like the Orthodox had taken over. 

Ten minutes to the north or west, you could find two or three or six different communities doing The Sound of Music.  One community would do it straight, while the neighborhing community had cast and directed it into zionist statement about getting the Jewish VonTrapp family out of Austria.  Even the nuns looked and sounded like Molly Picon.

I found Oklahoma! to be, at it's best, just ok.  It's hard to form a meaningful attachment to one of the greatest works of the American stage when Curley is played by a man who Slavic accent was so thick he sprayed the audience with his saliva.  And have you ever been to Oklahoma? The characters in the musical aren't like anyone from Oklahoma I've ever encountered.

By the time I arrived at South Pacific, I was ready to leave and found myself wishing My Fair Lady would just shut the hell up. Death of a Salesman?  Who doesn't want to sit through a play that reminds us that in some way, we're all failures?  And there is A Long Days Journey Into Night.  I mean what family doesn't have its problems?  I could stay home and see better dysfunction, and with my mother's smokers cough it was almost like someone was dying of TB, too.

What of Jacques Brel?   Is he alive and well and living in Paris?  Really?  Well, no.  Jacques Brel was the popular piece for dinner theater's that popped up all over Cleveland in the late 1960s.  These venues seemed to occupy storefronts in a near empty strip shopping centers, and the "Troubadours" (don't call them waiters because they are serious actors) who are going to bring Mr. Brel to life looked suspiciously like the garcon who served your meal baked chicken and California medley vegetables.  Slap a beret on them and they thought they were Edith Fucking Piaf.  Yawn. Oh, excuse me - we're supposed to think we're in gay Puree.  Ennui.

The only thing good entertainment bound to come out of one of these performances was the one woman, or man, who allowed themselves to be touched by the music to the point where they wept and called out "encore!"  You knew that was someone who had too much rose to drink with their meal, or the parent of one of the performers.  On the rare chance that they would turn to you to see if you too were touched to "the very marrow of your soul" like they had been, then you were face to face with the person Barbra Streisand sang about in "People."

While I love movies, I'm not so thrilled with musicals, with the exception of Hello Dolly.  The stories interest me, but I find it implausible that people would just break out in song to move a plot along.  Steven Sondheim is an amazing talent, but I will never join in and sing Tits and Ass at a piano bar.  I'm not a kill joy, it just isn't me.

The worst - and I mean WORST theatre experience I ever had was back in 1984 when I found out that the doctors thought I had a rare form of liver cancer, which luckily, I found out months later I did not.

However early in the process, to get me uncurled from the fetal position, a friend had tickets to Nunsense at Players Theater here in Columbus.  Players' was a troupe with a long and illustrious past, and this production was in its experimental "studio" open concept theater.

"C'mon - it'll get you mind off of this for two hours, then we can go get something to eat and you can complain about how much you hated it," she said.

So I'm sitting there trying not to think of the possibility of dying, and the cast of part time actresses hits the stage and breaks out into a song and a dance.  People around me are smiling and having a good time, and then the unthinkable happens: the nuns make a break for it and head into the audience.

And one of them gets me in her sights.

The bitch wants me to come on stage and share in the fun.  Under normal circumstances its a no-go as introverts aren't good at giving up control. But this night, I just wanted to be left alone.

So up the steps she flies and grabs a hold of my hand and tries to drag me on stage to dance a jig with them.   I'm crying, I'm upset and I have death on my mind, and this "actress" thinks I'm laughing to the point of tears.  She keeps tugging on me, and I keep trying to get her to let go. Finally, her grip slips, and down she goes a flight of bleacher stairs and lands on her tuckus.  The good news is that we weren't on a balcony or she would have sailed over the railing and fallen to her certain death.  And the rest of the audience thinks its part of the show. The bad news is she kept glaring at me for the rest of the production.

My husband, on the other hand, loves live theatre, and I support him in that love.  I have been known to go to productions and be pleasantly surprised.  And I do this because I love him and he loves it.   But it doesn't mean that I love theater.  It means I have survived it.

There are, of course exceptions. I am ALWAYS up for the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Their dancing is superb, their comic timing perfect. And I love opera, because it is so over the top. I mean what's not to love when the Worthington Ohio Civic Light Opera does Aida in a school gym and for an elephant on stage they either build one out of a refrigerator box - OR - dress someone's Great Dane up as Barbar. Now that's entertainment.

But on the whole, if an entertainer's poster in Las Vegas promises that "Jimmy Martin Sings the Songs of Your Life His Way," he's more inclined to be met with defiance than he is applause from this begrudging audience member.


  1. fiddler....the sound of music...nunsense

    no wonder you hate theatre!

  2. We never did any of that in my high school ... we were too busy dodging bullets.

  3. Oh dear...having been involved in live theatre since an early age (either participating or viewing) Mistress MJ is an enthusiast.

    However, I can stand back and observe it objectively and see how it CAN be annoying. I've walked out on a few performances myself.