Monday, March 24, 2008

What Audience Are You In?

Terry Teachout on appropriate laughter in the midst of inappropriate audiences:

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


Thomas Garvey said...

I happened to see "King Arthur" when I was in New York two weeks ago - I wonder if Terry Teachout was the insufferable jerk near me who kept giggling throughout, to let us know he was "in on the joke"? Yes, Mark Morris is funny - but he isn't solely funny, even in "King Arthur" (which struck me as just Morris treading water anyhow). But some people, having been told, or learned through repetition, that Morris is witty, seem intent on adding their own performances to the one onstage. I'm not saying one should remain absolutely silent through a Morris concert - but to giggle incessantly only means you're going to miss - and force others to miss - some deeply beautiful music. No doubt that's what the woman in front of you was trying to telegraph, Terry.

Freeman said...

Oh schnap!

Thomas Garvey said...

I know - bitch, bitch, bitch! I suppose I should just resign myself to enduring the in situ performances of the likes of Teachout, which are, at any rate, marginally less irritating than his writing, which tends toward gush like "Goodness, another whirlwind day in my gorgeous life! First a superb repast at Le Bernardin, followed by an elegant evening at Lincoln Center. Best of all, I even had the refreshing opportunity to impress on some bluehair at the opera that beneath my sophisticated veneer beats an unpretentious heart."