Down in Front

Oh, many '04 stage productions were mighty fine-- but sometimes the audience stole the show

Another opening, another show of bad manners out front. At the Dallas Summer Musicals' Yankee Doodle Dandy, a woman behind me dug into a grocery sack, pulled out a family-sized package of cookies, noisily ripped into it and passed the treats to her seat-kicking kids. During the show. Again and again she dove into the bag as the kids demanded more. I couldn't give my regards to George M. Cohan's Broadway for all the rustling and chomping from the all-they-could-eat snarf-a-thon. When I heard the fweep-fizz of soda cans opening, I lost it. "You have to stop that!" I hissed over my shoulder. She didn't.

Trinity River Arts Center is a small theater where just a few rows of chairs embrace the stage. Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! was a major production last August for the up-and-coming Uptown Players. It's about the early days of the AIDS crisis. A group of gay friends spend weekends in a beach house, a setting that found the all-male cast in the altogether for a couple of scenes. Did I mention that this is a very small theater? When the clothes came off, it quickly became obvious that among the eight men onstage, one of those things was not like the others. Staring at the unedited frontispiece of the actor in question, a cheeky fellow seated nearby stage-whispered to his friend: "Look at that one. Tiny window, heavy drapes."

At Kitchen Dog Theater's opening of Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, I had a close encounter of a different kind. In this drama, prisoners screamed the F-word nonstop, profanities echoing off walls in a deafening eardrum assault. But the curses were lullabyes to the stranger next to me. He fell into heavy slumber and started to snore. He sawed logs until the lights came up for intermission. When he came back to his seat, I expressed surprise that he was sticking around for the second act. "Did you know you were snoring?" I asked. He took offense. "I certainly was NOT!" he protested. "I've never fallen asleep in the theater in my life!" Then the lights went down and the lifers started turning the air blue again. Not 30 seconds later, Sleepy was using my shoulder as a snuggle pillow, snoring again like a hibernating grizzly.

Dallas Theater Center's Topdog/Underdog provoked mid-performance walkouts by dozens of offended ticket-holders.
Michael Brosilow
Dallas Theater Center's Topdog/Underdog provoked mid-performance walkouts by dozens of offended ticket-holders.

No surprise, Making Porn, a daffy thing starring actual gay-porn actors, attracted an SRO throng of middle-aged gay men to Teatro Dallas, all happy to spend $35 to see beefy, spray-tanned mumblers reveal an astonishing lack of acting talent while laying bare certain other attributes. Watching porn on video and watching porn actors attempt live theater are two totally different games of balls. There was a fake-jacking scene and a graphic lesson in money shots. But it only got really gross at intermission, when the long line for the men's room forced a large chunk of the audience to pee in the parking lot.

The year ended with one of Dallas' funniest actors, Nye Cooper, giving a rowdy audience member a dose of Christmas comeuppance. In the one-man Santaland Diaries, Cooper spends 70 minutes talking directly to the 50 people who turn up to hear author David Sedaris' hilarious musings on working as a Macy's elf. This was Cooper's fourth year of sold-out, two-a-day shows, and by the second week, he wasn't about to take any guff from groundlings. Santaland attracts a lot of corporate holiday parties, and at the performance I went to, such a group was led by a woman named Diane (I know this because she shouted it like a cheerleader trying out for the A-squad). She had arrived in a well-tippled state and downed three plastic cups of wine before Cooper's first entrance. With "Crumpet the elf" in full monologue, Diane suddenly rose from her seat and clip-clopped like a high-heeled reindeer across the stage to the only exit door, slamming it behind her. At last, she's gone, I thought. Then ker-FLAM, the jangled belle returned with all the subtle grace of Bad Santa. As she staggered in, Cooper got to the line, "Get OUT! Get OUT of Santa's house right NOW!" He delivered it at an angry pitch, pointing directly at the dipsy dame sharing his spotlight. The audience laughed, which built to applause, which became an accusatory roar that might have led to a lynch mob had Cooper not diverted attention with a bit of stage business. It was a perfect moment. And with that, the curtain rang down on another year at the theater.

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