Many enthusiastic theater, concert, opera, and film goers have their cellphone, hearing aid, plastic bag, candy wrapper, or other disturbance stories. It's hard to understand how people who have enough intelligence and interest to attend Verdi's rarely performed Stiffelio, which I enjoyed the other evening at the Met, couldn't have enough of that same intelligence to remember to turn off their phones. As they say, go figure. At least only one phone went off during that particular performance. Whistling hearing-aid batteries are another offender. A continual whistle during a lieder recital by the outstanding Belgian bass-baritone José Van Dam ruined an evening of serious music-making for me. In spite of that experience, I do remain thankful for my excellent hearing; my companion at Carnegie Hall didn't hear any superfluous noise.
Stories of interrupted recent performances abound. I wasn't present for Brian Dennehy's much-praised Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, when he is reported to have stopped the show until the offending phone owners, who didn't seem to know how to turn their device off, left the theater. It happened again early in this season when both Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig broke character, each at a different performance of A Steady Rain—a huge, sellout hit, by the way—to shush offending ringers.
One of my favorite theaters is the highly inventive Irish Repertory Theatre, quietly squirreled away on an obscure block in Chelsea. They do amazingly creative work in a tiny space—even utterly charming versions of musicals. During a performance of Gaslight, a woman in the front row, which is inches from the stage, kept rummaging in a plastic bag. Highest praise to the leading actor, already giving a fine, villainous performance, who reached down, took the bag away from her, and placed it under a chair onstage. At the end of the performance, during the bows, he handed the bag back to her. I wish I could have seen her face!
Yesterday, the gremlins were at it again at Irish Rep. During Act I of a performance of the completely delightful musical Ernest in Love, an affectionate tribute to Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a periodic "beep" resounded throughout the little auditorium. No one seemed able to spot the culprit and give him/her the deserved punch in the nose. Whoever it was apparently finally got the idea, as the beep was not heard during Act II. If the actors heard it, they gave no sign and continued with their excellent performance.
Once at the movies, when two gabby matrons behind me were doing what may have been either a running commentary or simultaneous monologues, I turned around and hissed at them,"Why don't you go home and watch television?" What's with these people? I'm amazed that they can even cross the street without getting run over. And let's not forget those little rustling candy wrappers while we're at it. Aaaagghhh! Oh, and the wheezing breathing device a couple of seasons back at Lucia di Lammermoor? Well, you get the idea....