Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Show Business

      Some time ago Barbara and I attended the show Midlife! The Crisis Musical. It was recommended by a neighbor, who said it was hilarious. He was correct. I thought I recognized some of the characters, then I realized I was seeing myself.
      Two scenes in particular hit home: In one a man walked into a room and couldn't remember what he was looking for; the other was of two men in a doctor's office, waiting for a prostate exam. I could identify closely with both situations, which I am sure are familiar to any man who has reached the age of 50.
      We do not see plays as often as we used to. Since we have been in Pennsylvania (2004) we have gone to six or eight plays – approximately one per year. At one time we held season tickets to several playhouses – sometimes two at the same time. (Different dates of course). I estimate we saw at least 150 plays during the 37 years we lived in California, ranging from rank amateur to very professional productions.
      When we first arrived there we attended shows at a theater-in-the-round, where we saw the likes of Betsy Palmer in South Pacific and Richard Harris in Camelot.
      For several years we had tickets to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the premier playhouse in Los Angeles. Another couple attended with us, and we all went out to dinner after the performances. Obviously, we went to matinees.
      Probably the most boring play we saw there was A Man For All Seasons, featuring Sally Kellerman. I had read the book, and was very disappointed with the production. I would say this play was very forgettable, but it was so bad that I can't forget it, no matter how hard I try.
      We saw Phantom Of The Opera twice, and loved the exciting music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the wonderful special effects – the crashing chandelier and the phantom rowing a boat across the stage, among others.
      Probably the funniest show we saw there actually consisted of two "dark" plays. One in particular – whose name I can't remember – was hilarious, not only because of the action on the stage, but also the action of some of the spectators around us.
      The idea was that when the stage lights were lit, the characters were supposed to be floundering around in darkness, and when the lights were off, they were supposed to be able to see. As the lights were turned on and off, people around us were saying, "Now are the lights supposed to be on or off?" By the time the show was over, they still hadn't figured it out.
      We saw some big names in show business: Liz Taylor, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston , and many others. We found that the biggest names did not always indicate the best shows.
      Eventually the quality of the plays downtown went into a recession at the same time the prices were suffering from inflation, so we dropped those tickets and bought others at a smaller theater near our house. Again the plays varied in quality.
      For example, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood was a musical based on a novel that Charles Dickens was working on when he died. Much of the action took place in the audience as the actors wandered about the theater. Since it was unfinished, the audience was offered a choice of two endings. We didn't particularly care for the play or the endings, but that's just us.
      Another show which did not impress us, especially since we had seen it before, was Annie. I guess people thought that since the star was a child, it would be a good play for their children to see. But it's not; it's a play about the great depression, and kids do not understand the situations. They soon become bored, and it's very distracting. Also, I suppose I am getting older, but it seems to me the singing is more shouting than musical.
      On the other hand, Foxfire, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy was outstanding.
      In addition to our season ticket attendances, we managed to see a few other performances. One we particularly enjoyed was Jesus Christ, Superstar at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood. We went there with Barbara's sister and her husband, who happened to be visiting us at the time. We all thought it was very good – I believe the brother-in-law used it as a teaching point in his Sunday school class.
      At that performance Groucho Marx happened to be in the audience. While he was deep into the twilight of his life, he had two very young and very beautiful ladies helping him get around. I have never seen a nicer pair of "crutches."
      We also attended some very amateur productions, but fortunately I don't remember much about any of them.
      Some of our adventures happened outside the theater. On one occasion we were going to dinner after the performance. The husband of the couple with us decided to take us to a Greek restaurant he had found. After driving around for quite some time, he admitted he didn't know exactly where it was. He kept telling us, "But I know how to find it from the airport." After about an hour he decided to go to the airport and start over. He really did know how to find it from the airport – It took him about five minutes. The food was good, but it was not that good.
      I am glad we managed to see all those plays, but I am not quite as excited about live theater as I used to be. I wonder why.
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      Most likely the first words were little more than cries to warn others of approaching danger. But as with all things, once the first “words” became available, they were transcended and transformed. Using the sounds found in nature - birdsong, waterfalls, animal cries, rustling leaves, storms, etc. - as models, naming of objects probably followed soon afterwards.
      The Growth Of Language – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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