Monday, September 29, 2008

Seagull squawking

I saw the mostly terrific Royal Court production of The Seagull yesterday afternoon, at the Walter Kerr. At the intermission my actor friend and I were talking about the play; this was my third Seagull in a year (fourth, counting the 1968 film version), and we got on to talking about the famous gunshot that closes the show (I think the Classic Stage Company version added another one). When the show ended, and the cast had completed their curtain call, a woman sitting in front of us turned around and hissed that we had spoiled the show for her by revealing the ending.

OK, The Seagull may not be as familiar to everyone as, say, Hamlet (everyone--but it's not The Sixth Sense, either, or an episode of 24. Chekhov wasn't writing a thriller 113 years ago. I responded, “Say what? This is a century-old play. A stage classic. It’s beyond spoiling at this point.” “Well, I haven’t read it in a while,” she huffed.

Like she ever had. She was there to see Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard, and who knows, UK Office and Pirates of the Caribbean star Mackenzie Crook, in a transatlantic "event" to be dished with the ladies who lunch (color me impressed if she's a fan of the show's affecting Nina, Carey Mulligan, who I recognized from the bone-chilling Doctor Who episode Blink. Whatever. But, girlfriend, The Seagull has been flapping around the boards since 1895, so don't be surprised if fellow theatergoers talk it up. And don't listen in to other people's conversations, just because you had a mummy as your escort. (Her husband stared vacantly into space the whole time of the exchange, the way husbands do when their wives make a scene.)

It was a press day, and I could hear folks around us snickering at her offense. But, point taken. If you see me at a revival of Three Sisters, and want to know if those gals made it to Moscow, mum's the word.


Mark Blankenship said...

Hi Robert,

I definitely understand your point about "The Seagull." By now, many people know how it ends.

But it seems like you're scolding the woman in front of you for not knowing the play. Is that really so terrible? Is it fair for other people in the crowd to be "snickering" at her for not knowing the show?

Because if she realized she was being mocked, that woman might not come back to the theater, and then everybody loses.

And really, what if she did only come to the show to see Kristin Scott Thomas? What's the harm? No matter how she got there, she ended up seeing one of the masterpieces of modern drama, and isn't that point? Shouldn't we be excited that she's getting to experience a beautiful play, even if it took her most of her life to finally do it? Is her first experience of "The Seagull" less important because she had it after we had ours?

If we laugh at people who don't know what we know, then we risk turning the theater into a coterie. We risk communicating to "outsiders" that they've missed their chance to feel included, so they should just go home. To me, that's an outcome we should be desperate to avoid.

--Mark Blankenship

Robert Cashill said...

Sure, Mark--blame the victim!

I think you're missing the point here, or taking what I wrote in a new direction. She was scolding us, and not the other way around, and was chiding us for a conversation she was listening in on (we weren't yelling, just talking). Once she lit into us, I coolly, calmly responded as I did, and she said what she had to say, and that was more or less it. (That, and the part where we wrestled in the aisles...kidding!) I didn't ask the rubberneckers what they thought, just heard them murmuring. They may have thought her ignorant, but I know they thought she was rude, which was very much the case.

If she had been friendlier about it, we might have tried to engage her, but she was mad at us for ruining her afternoon, as if nothing else mattered to her than the "surprise" ending of the show. It's not Deathtrap. For me to have just gulped and said, "Well, umm, sorry you overheard us" would only have added to her air of brittle entitlement. There are enough Botoxed trophy wives and their bored older husbands taking up seats in Broadway houses.

But, really--class warfare aside, it's just an anecdote. I suppose as a critic and writer I don't pay much mind to so-called spoilers, which are difficult to avoid anymore in our webbed world. Tell me how anything ends and I'll still go see it, perhaps because I'm more attuned to the big picture and the importance of beginnings and midsections. I guess I was bemused that something like The Seagull could be "spoiled" in this day and age, particularly when it's pretty clear early on what fate might have in store for the character.

Still, I'm glad this moved you to write. If only the much longer things I throw up here got such response.

And if you didn't know...Konstantin shot himself dead.

Mark Blankenship said...

Wait... Konstantin dies? Well, crap. Now I'm not going.

Anyway... As I was writing my reply, I was thinking about how I wasn't there. The woman in question might have irritated me, too.

But when I read the post, it seemed like the woman was being called out for not knowing the play. Which, you know... not my thing.

But on the other hand, if she was an entitled jerk, then I might have told her how every play on Broadway ended. And made up the endings I didn't know. "The end of Shrek? He dies, ma'am. Donkey kills him."