Onstage humor is a delicate plant, capable of wilting without warning. I saw Mark Morris' staging of Purcell's King Arthur at New York City Opera a couple of weeks ago and laughed all the way through it, but it took the rest of the audience an hour or so to catch up with me. A minute or so into the evening, a woman sitting in front of me turned around and glared when I snickered at one of Morris' more obvious visual punch lines. If a thought balloon had formed over my head at that moment, it would have read as follows: Hey, lady, didn't you get the memo? This is supposed to be funny!
Then it hit me: I was surrounded by operagoers, not dancegoers.
Opera buffs aren't in the habit of laughing in the theater, not even at comic operas. Dance buffs, by contrast, are well aware of Morris' reputation as a comedian, so much so that they sometimes laugh at scenes whose beauty makes me want to cry.
Monday, March 24, 2008
What Audience Are You In?
Terry Teachout on appropriate laughter in the midst of inappropriate audiences: