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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Perfectly awful, awfully perfect

"Follies" is a musical by Stephen Sondheim and some other people. It had a run on Broadway before I was born. It is currently having another go at the boards. A revival.

When it hit Broadway in 1971, reviews were as mixed as pancake batter--clumpy and uneven. The critics who hated the show admitted it had moments of brilliance, and the critics who loved the show allowed that it had flaws.

It was, I suppose, a very human production, that 1971 production of "Follies." Depending on the critic you read, it was either awful but perfect, or perfect but awful. Mistakes were made, but it wasn't clear if the mistakes enhanced the show's character, or undermined it.

The show was flat, well-rounded, a bit dull, a bit brilliant. Like humans. Like pancakes.


The title of the show--"Follies"--is a play on words.

Or a play on a single word, really: "Follies."

Follies can mean "a theatrical revue"--vaudeville, Moulin Rouge, Ziegfeld, you know. Shows with little plot and lots of leg.

And follies can also mean "lack of personal quality or sense." All the characters were in the follies, in "Follies." All the characters suffer a folly.

Follies all around.


Got it? Good.


So this 1971 pun of a show is now enjoying a second life on Broadway, and I saw it. I didn't want to see it, but there it was, and there I was. I was tired, it was game, and we found ourselves together in one space on Broadway, watching one another warily, wearily.

Next to me was someone I'd recently had sex with, who was not Greg. Next to not-Greg was his husband.

And in front of me was a revival of a show from 1971. A follies revival of "Follies."

Audiences don't know what 'follies' are anymore.


The person to my left, during "Follies," had recently seen me naked. True! And I'd seen him naked as well. With permission from both our partners--it's not like we'd caught a glimpse of one another in the shower at the gym or anything. With consent, both not-Greg and I had recently been naked--active, even--in a room together. And now we were at "Follies" together.


The person to my right was a stranger. She reeked of her boozy beef meal. She belched. She elbow-wrestled me for access to the armrest. Not a quarter through the first act, the woman slipped out her iPhone--I'm not sure which fold of fat she retrieved the phone from, but to her credit the woman had obeyed the rules of theatre-house etiquette and turned the thing off.

Now she turned her phone on. She pressed the glowing screen to her ample bosom as if hoping to dull the glow.

Her breasts glowed as the iPhone revved up. Darkened theatre, glowing breasts. Dilated pupils focused on the stage now blinded by glowing breasts.

The iPhone vibrated.

The woman peeled the phone from her breasts, and murmured to her companion, "Tina's got to go to Dave's," and both the woman and her companion tut-tutted amongst themselves while the actors on stage hit high notes and low notes.


Earlier, the large-breasted woman did this when Bernadette made her first entrance: CLAPCLAPCLAP.

The entire audience did the same thing, like starving seals in a Sea-World show.


Bernadette didn't do anything--she simply walked onto a stage. Bernadette often walks onto a stage. It's what she does.

Make Bernadette earn it, I thought of the applause.

Each time I go to a show with a 'name' star, I think this as the 'name' enters for the first time and the audience break into applause: It' s not fucking 'Happy Days.' Stop applauding each person's entrance.

Kramer didn't slide through Jerry's door, right, so hold the applause.


If you're gonna critique a show like 'Follies,' then you should not forget to critique the audience. Sitting there in the dark, it's easy to let those poor bastards in the audience off the hook. They paid money to see the show, they got dressed up, they had dinner, they stood in line.

Those poor bastards in the audience had lives before they came to the show, and they'll have lives after they leave, and it does a disservice to 'Follies' to forget the show is as much about itself as it is about the audience paying to see it.


Hope you got that.



So the woman to my right pretended to love each song on stage, but was really into her iPhone. And the man to my left didn't touch me the way he had a few days earlier, and I didn't touch him. And on stage, the couples sang their 'Follies' show.


Here's the thing: it was all good. The show was nice, and the audience had its flaws. When the lights came up, the audience was just as it was when the lights had gone down 2 hours earlier. We were an audience of follies when the lights were dimmed, and we were still an audience of follies when the lights came up.

And we exited the theatre aware of how awful follies could be, despite the raves assuring us the show about those follies wasn't so bad. In fact, "Follies" was very good.

"Follies" is a tough show. I hope the audience appreciates it.

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