“On the Aisle with Larry” 

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, usually brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. It’s a slow time in the New York Theatre so this week, Larry reveals his theatrical pet peeves, in the style of Andy Rooney. 

I love going to the theatre. Last week excepted, I usually go about 5 times a week. I have just been chosen to be on the Nominating Committee of the Drama Desk, so I expect I’ll be going even more in the next year. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Since I took last week off (there really wasn’t anything I wanted to see), this week I have decided to write about some of my theatrical pet peeves. 

It used to be that if an audience really liked a show, or a performance therein, they would step up their applause at the curtain call, or even shout “bravo!” I am told they still do this at the opera – not that I would know. Who has time to go, when one’s at the theatre almost every night? And, anyway, it’s all in a foreign language. Now at the theatre, one hears ridiculous whooping at the curtain call. “Whoop!” Whoop!” Sometimes, just “Woo!” “Woo!” What’s with this? It just sounds idiotic to me. 

Speaking of curtain calls, it seems like every time I go to Broadway, the audience gives the actors a standing ovation. This used to be rare; now it seems to be obligatory. I think this is because people have spent so much money on their tickets, they want to believe that what they have seen is Extraordinary. Sometimes it is; usually, it’s not. I often find myself the only audience member sitting during the curtain call, curmudgeon that I am. To further add to my eccentric behavior, if I didn’t much care for the show itself I hold my applause until the actors come out, because if the show sucked it’s usually not the actors’ fault, and they deserve a hearty round of applause. Whoop-free. 

Another thing that annoys me is the inevitably tardy start of the show. If my ticket says it’s supposed to start at 8:00 pm, why does it usually not start until 8:10? Movies start on time; why can’t plays? 

Latecomers annoy me. The show starts ten minutes late (see above), but still there are people who just can’t make it even by 8:10. They usually have seats in the center section of the front of the orchestra, thus distracting everyone – the actors included, as they struggle past patrons who managed to make it on time, to get to their seats. These people should be flogged! 

I usually am fortunate enough to get a seat on the aisle; but occasionally I am seated down the row. On these occasions, inevitably the aisle seat is occupied by a movement-challenged individual who doesn’t seem to be able to get up and go. While he and his wife bask in the glow of their expensive night out, other patrons are blocked from getting out of there. Meanwhile, the aisle fills up and then it takes forever to get up it and out of the theatre. Once, at the Mint Theatre, I was seated in the third seat off the aisle. The first and second seats were occupied by an elderly couple who went catatonic after the curtain call ended. Eight of us were standing there, wondering if we’d ever get out of there. Finally, I reached over and gently tapped the old fella on the shoulder sitting on the aisle. “Excuse me,” I said. “The play’s over – you can go home now.” Immediately the geezer snapped out of his coma, and he and his wife got up and exited. Geez Louise! 

Speaking of audience exit behavior – why do so many people struggle with their coats and hats and scarves in the aisle or, worse, at the door to the street, thus making it impossible for anybody to get past them. Lord have mercy – get outta the way to put your coats on! 

At every show, from Broadway to deepest darkest Off Off, patrons are asked before the show begins to turn off their cell phones. Rarely am I at the theatre when at least one doesn’t go off. Are these people deaf??? 

Critics tend to piss me off. Many of them seem to think it’s their job to persuade as many people as they can not to go to the theatre. I can’t tell you how many times I have actually rather enjoyed a show which these cultural ayatollahs have panned. Just because you read it in a newspaper (or, these days, on the internet), doesn’t mean it’s true. And never forget; the critics don’t have you in mind when they are writing their reviews. 

Well, that’s about it. What are your pet peeves? 

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.” 

                             —– George F. Will