Sunday, December 6, 2009

A theatrical experience

In all my years of reviewing theatre, there have been many gaffes, unexpected entrances and awkward moments when scenery gets stuck. Occasionally, actors will break character creating a memorable instance of levity that allows the action to continue unabated. Understanding human nature, audiences are decidedly passive and almost always forgiving. With that stated I must say that today's matinee performance at Le Petit Theatre's production of "White Christmas" was like nothing I have ever experienced. You may not comprehend to what I am alluding until you realize that the show took place during the same time frame as the New Orleans Saints game at FedEx Field against the recalcitrant Washington Redskins. First of all, the house was packed. Even Gary Solomon, the managing director of the oldest community theatre in the country, was moved to express his thanks vocally for the totally unexpected numbers in the audience. Uncomfortably, he spoke onstage just before the curtain rose. At that time he announced the Saints were trailing the Redskins by a score of 20-17, but he uneasily predicted he would be back to let everyone know the final score at intermission when the Saints would have prevailed. Uncharacteristically, the show began more than ten minutes late. Throughout the first act the audience was responsive, yet restless. Everyone kept looking at their watches, enjoying the show, but also moving uncomfortably in their seats wondering what the boys in white and gold would be up to. As the first act curtain fell, cell phones were pulled out and others (like me) went outside and into the historic French Quarter to peer through windows espying the bright TV screens broadcasting the game. The game should have been over. It was already past 3:30 p.m., but the game was far from over. It was in sudden death overtime. Apparently, the Saints had just tied the ballgame at 30 apiece as regulation time ran out. Everyone was in a panic. The show was quite good, but the Saints had everyone's rapt attention. Hugh Jackman could have been giving the performance of his life on that stage and not one audience member would have cared. Intermission meant rooting for the Saints pure and simple. With cell phones glued to their ears the attendees connected to their homes or to friends and relatives who clued them in on the action taking place on the bitterly cold field 1,163 miles away. As the sudden death period continued, it became evident that no one was ready to return to his or her seats. All of a sudden the inside of the theatre became ever more excited. The Saints were moving down the field. After a sustained drive, they were suddenly on the Washington 20-yard line. They moved the ball down to their opponents' five-yard line and I expected they would try to punch the ball in or lob a pass into the end zone to put the game away. Apparently, Coach Sean Payton decided to kick a game-ending field goal instead. The Saints kicker lined up to make the three-pointer and it sailed over the goalposts! The audience screamed. The Saints had won the game. But no! Washington had called for a time out just as the ball was about to be kicked. It's an obvious ploy coaches use to make the kicker think about what he has to do and put pressure on him. Sometimes the second kick goes bad and it gives the other team another chance at saving the game. The officials handed the ball back to the Saints and made them kick it over. The crowd inside the theatre didn't quite understand it at the time, but they noisily accepted their fate. A second time the ball sailed over the goalpost and an explosion of approval immediately followed. This time the game was over. The mighty Saints had won 33-30. Almost immediately the band started playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" from the orchestra pit and shouts of "Who dat?" rang out. The audience started clapping to the music when cast members in costume began "second lining" across the stage. It was unreal to me, this feeling of unalloyed joy and unabashed pride in a professional sports franchise that held the show up for several minutes until the celebrating subsided. Solomon returned to the stage with microphone in hand to remind the crowd to turn off those pesky cell phones now that they were no longer needed. The performance ended an hour later with the entire cast singing Irving Berlin's immortal holiday classic, "White Christmas," and snow machines blanketed the audience with thick sheets of faux flakes. Several performers couldn't help themselves. They launched themselves into an impromptu cheer of "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" to the delight of the audience. Truly, I'm not sure that I'll ever go through another matinee performance with as much excitement. It reminded me of that old joke where someone asks: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?"

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