A month or so ago, the proprietor of the San Francisco Theatre Pub blog gathered all the various and sundry personalities who give those pages their flavor in order to (more or less) create some guidelines and ground rules for the upcoming months.
Being the social butterfly I am, I had previous plans on that very day and was unable to make the gathering. When I received the minutes of the meeting, one of the suggestions for topics was “breaking the rules.”
The Theatre Pub bloggers meeting
“Well,” thought I, “that’s fodder for material.” (Okay, I didn’t think that all, but go with me; it’s part of the convention.)
As I started thinking about it, though, I realized that I don’t have a lot of material in that area. (Even considering my recent series of posts about breaking and entering and attempted arson.) As an actor, I do what my director asks. (Even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.) As a director, I do my darnedest to what I think the writer is asking. As a writer, I’m long-winded, but try to be linear.
My recent rehearsals have kept me from seeing any plays, so I can’t even use that to draw on. (I can’t even remember the last show I saw.) But, even if I had seen something, propriety and common sense (and decency) would keep me from giving all but the most fulsome praise to it. (This applies only to the written word, I might add. There are things I’ll tell you in person that I just won’t commit to the Internet where it could potentially come back to bit me in the ass. I mean, it may still come back to bite me, but at least I won’t be leaving it out where just anyone can stumble across it.)
There have been a few things that have occurred lately and that I’ve read recently that cry for comment and shooting down, but about which I feel like I can’t comment because I’ll hurt feelings or say something even more stupid than usual.
Hence, as much as I want to break those rules – in saying things that I firmly believe about certain people events, or things – I’m going to break the rules about breaking the rules and not talk about them.
It’s especially frustrating because I’ve been reading some jaw-droppingly stupid stuff – not Kim Davis stupid, but it’s close enough that (to misquote another dope) “I can see it from my house”) – that almost cry for being taken down, but I can’t go there. (Suffice it to say that there are people whom I read online – and especially on Facebook – who need to realize that not everything they think, say, or write is either profound, comedy gold, or even vaguely interesting. (On those identities, I will be as silent as the tomb – and suffice it to say, yes, I do include myself in that category.)
As I write this, I’ve been seeing television commercials for both The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera and finding myself appalled that people actually pay good money to see those shows and others like them.
I’m suddenly reminded of Robert Benchley. (I’ll pause when you click on that link.) For those who don’t know him, Benchley was a writer who flourished in the first half of the last century. He started writing short humorous pieces in the late 1910s, became the drama critic for the original Life Magazine (which was a humor publication that bore no relationship to the later photojournalism weekly), eventually moving over to the same slot at The New Yorker, before – through a series of circumstances – becoming a beloved character actor in the 30s and 40s. (He died in 1945 at the age of only 56.) No less an expert on humor than James Thurber said that “one of the greatest fears of the humorous writer is that he has spent three weeks writing something done faster and better by Benchley in 1919.”
Mister Benchley, please
As the critic for Life, one of Mr. Benchley’s duties was to write capsule blurbs for the plays on Broadway, one of which was Anne Nichols’s Abie’s Irish Rose, a stupid comedy about a Jewish boy who falls in love with an Irish Catholic girl. That’s about as complicated and funny as the show got, but it was inexplicably popular, loggng 2.327 performances over more than five years (in an era when a run of six months was a smash and that of a year was a blockbuster.) Its run is still the 29th-longest in Broadway history – and #3 for plays.
Critics hated Abie; I mean HATED it. They reacted in ways that make my own dislikes seem mild. Mr. Benchley may have hated it more than anyone, though, so he used those capsules to eviscerate the show, two of which sum up my feelings about Phantom and Lion King (among many, many others): “Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime” and “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
So, as much as I’d like to emulate Mr. Benchley (or “Sweet Old Bob,” as his friends called him) and speak truth to power (or the powerless, as the case may be … ), there are some particular rules I’m afraid I just don’t have enough gumption to break.
On the Internet, that is. Like I said, ask me in person – or, better yet, buy me a drink – and I’ll spill the beans like Niagara on steroids.