Upon Entering the Scene 

Every drama critic's nightmare

Wednesday, Dec 3 2008

Freelance theater critic 1988-1997
Theater editor 1997-present

Slightly more than 10 years ago, as the Weekly’s newly appointed theater editor, I assigned myself a show at the Hudson Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard. Got there promptly for the 8 p.m. curtain only to be told that the show had started at 7, but I could return for the late-night performance at 10 p.m.

Drove home, about a mile away, fed the dog, researched the play a bit more, and left my driveway at 9:30 p.m. With the traffic and the lack of parking on a Friday night, it would have been easier had I walked. Instead, after crawling along the boulevard at about 1.7 miles per hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I eventually found a yellow zone several hundred yards from the theater, and scrambled up to the box office at about 10:07.

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“They just started,” a sweet woman said, handing me a press packet and pointing me in the direction of the theater, which was down a dark hallway. I peeked in one door, observing that it was a dressing room. Then I saw the stage, and with it, a perplexing challenge.

To sneak into the hall, I would have to walk across a lip of the stage, in the bright light, disrupting and potentially destroying the play’s opening scene, unfolding there before my eyes. That’s when I noticed a few empty chairs on an upper landing, which was separated from the audience risers by a plywood wall. Around the chairs was a kind of cocktail table. Perfect, I figured, slogging up a ramp to sit in one of the chairs, high above yet in the general area of the audience, which I observed from my bird’s-eye view, to consist of about 60 people.

I settled in, placed the program on my private table and enjoyed the action for about 15 minutes. While checking the names of the actors in the program, I noticed that my reading light became suspiciously bright — glaring. I looked up from the program to discover that seven lighting instruments were at full blast, aimed directly at me; I imagined I resembled the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

A survival impulse kicked in. I ducked, quickly, hiding myself behind the plywood partition. I could hear some titters from the house. From this crouch, I observed two of the actors walking up the very ramp I had just used. That’s when I realized that my private perch was actually a playing area.

This was the first and, I hope, last time I have ever observed an entire scene while staring directly into the nylons of two actresses, who somehow managed to contain their laughter at the obvious absurdity of having a critic kneeling at their feet. That’s why they call them actors.

Tom Stoppard wrote a play about a critic inadvertently entering the action of the play and subsequently being murdered. But I was spared, and have lived to review more plays.


From “Idiot’s Delight,” by Steven Leigh Morris, published February 4, 1994

Daniel Gerould contends that “comedy thrives on tyranny.” Fool Moon confirms his theory, although it doesn’t thrive on the kind of religious tyranny that inspired Molière, or on the political despotism that fueled comedies by Gogol of Vaclav Havel.?... Rather, it’s a far more particular American rage against conformity, against man becoming machine. Behind the show’s waves of laughter lies the premise that to be a fool is to be unique, and to be unique is one of our most romantic and cherished illusions.


Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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