I live in Brooklyn, but work in Manhattan. Among people who live in Manhattan. Here’s the thing about people who live in Manhattan. They like the theater. And by that, I mean the theatah. On Broadway or occasionally off-Broadway, if it’s a very trendy or up-and-coming show. These people go to the theatah, take pride in the theatah, and talk about the latest productions (the term “play” is used only for “play date”) they’ve seen just about all the time. Or at least, it seems that way to me, since I’m always the one that hasn’t seen the show (I refuse to use the term “production” in conversation) they’re talking about. Maybe that’s because while these shows are, relatively speaking, in my co-workers’ back yards, people like me have to take a picnic basket and a copy of “The Odessey” for the trek on the subway to get to them.
I could, of course, go to the theater if I really wanted to, and avoid the trek by going to a week night show while I’m already in Manhattan. But my dirty little secret is that I don’t’ particularly like the theater. And of the plays I have liked, I generally prefer non-musicals to musicals, another sacred Manhattan cow. I just called my anti-theater bias my dirty little secret, but it’s not really a secret at all. It’s more like a six foot neon marquee that I wear on my forehead. I used to try to fake it, but there are only so many times you can get away with critiques like “yes, they [talked][sang][danced] very well” or “yes, they did not [talk][sing][dance] very well” before people start to catch on. You may ask why I don’t just occasionally go to a play (there, I said it) to solve the problem. But after sitting through “Phantom of the Opera” (That’s right. I didn’t like it. What are you gonna do about it?) and only halfway through “Cats,” I vowed never to do that again.
So what to do about the water-cooler theater talk? As many a cornered individual has done, I decided to take the best defense is a good offense route and become an anti-elitist reverse snob. So when the conversation invariably rolls around to the latest “production” and people turn to me for my comments, I sniff, “I know this isn’t PC in New York City, but I don’t particularly care for live theater. I much prefer film.” If pressed further, I’ll say “in quality films,” (Let’s face it, even anti-elitists don’t win points for saying they liked “Dumb and Dumber 2”), “the writing and acting is much subtler than in the theater. The theater is much more broad” (Which is what you will call me behind my back.) “Of course, theater is fine for other people,” I say, sniffing in those people’s direction in a way that makes it clear it is anything but fine. “It’s simply my personal preference (which is oh, so much better than yours, my humbly lowered eyes say, as I give them a sidelong glance.)
At first, my ploy worked. My stance may not have made me popular, but I was given a certain grudging respect, at least to my face. But as time went on, being the outsider all of the time got to me. Even though I continued to talk about my failure to see shows in a tone I would have used to say I’d turned down a Tony, inside, I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt that I was being viewed as the official office Peasant. So recently, when I saw and liked the film “Jersey Boys” on the plane ride home from a trip, I thought I might have a chance to redeem myself a little. That's because even though it was a film, it was based on a long-running Broadway play and showed its theatrical roots.
Noticing my co-worker Henry’s door was open, I sauntered by casually, pretending to be surprised he was at his desk. “Hey, Henry,” I said, sidling into a chair. “I just got back from a trip, and you’ll never guess what I saw on the plane.”
“A bomb?” he ventured. Henry’s humor is dry, to say the least.
“Very funny. I saw ‘Jersey Boys,’ and I really liked it.”
“Jersey Boys, Jersey Boys…” Henry said to himself, looking off in the distance. “I think I saw some reviews of that, and they were pretty bad.”
“Oh,” I said, deflating like a leaking flotation device. “maybe that’s because it was based on a real story. Critics hate biographies if they aren’t true to life.”
“No,” said Henry, ”I don’t think that was it. I think they said it was too much like the play. And what about Clint Eastwood as director? What was he doing with something like that?”
“Yes, you could tell it had been a play, and usually I hate that,” I was quick to add, in an attempt to right this wrongly listing ship, “but this time, I thought it worked. And as far as Clint Eastwood goes, I say good for him that he tried something he’s never done before, like a musical.”
“A musical?” Henry almost shouted, his moustache barely able to keep up with his shaking head. “That was no musical! That was just a movie with some pre-made pop songs thrown in!”
“I see what you mean,” I stammered. “But…still…they are good songs…”
“They’re nothing but pop!” Henry roared. “They’re not Show Tunes. Let me tell you something. The other night, I was at a bar in Greenwhich Village, Greenwich Village, and I asked the pianist to play a show tune. And he played a song from ‘Jersey Boys,' of all things! So I said, ‘excuse me, that’s not a show tune. Can’t you play something from ‘Carousel,’ or ‘The King and I?’’ So he says, ’that’s before my time.’ Before his time?! It’s Greenwich Village! Sophie Tucker’s probably a regular there! I said, ‘gimme some Cole Porter or Rogers and Hammerstein.’ And he says, ‘Who?’
Henry and his moustache paused for dramatic effect.
‘Who!’ So I said, “Rodgers and Hammerstein! Are you hammered?’ We were two blocks from Stonewall! I’m surprised the bar patrons hadn’t stoned him! I was so upset, I had to order another drink…Come to think of it, maybe that was the idea all along…the annoying pianist ploy…”
“Oh,” was my witty rejoinder.
“I’m sorry,” said Henry, winding down. “I didn’t mean to go on like that. So, you enjoyed your flight?”
“Yes,” I said, racking my brain for a way to salvage the conversation. ”There was plenty of space in the carry-on bins , and I had enough leg room.”
“Carry-on bins?” said Henry. “Leg room? You must have flown coach. I haven’t done that in twenty years. For a few extra flyer miles, I can stretch out, martini in hand, and have a wrinkle-free suit bag handed to me when it’s time to get off. Coach,” he smirked, this time shaking his head at a pace leisurely enough for his moustache to keep up.
“I’d love to talk more,” I said, easing my way out of the room sideways, Mayan Temple-style. “Lunchtime’s almost over and I want to eat my sandwich.”
“Sandwich?” I heard Henry boom l as I walked down the hall. Was it my imagination, or did I hear a small wind whistle through that hair on his lip? “Sandwich?!” he continued. “I eat nothing but greens and seeds in the middle of the day. Do you know how much blood flow is diverted from your brain to your stomache to digest one bite of a sandwich? How can you get any work done after eating – “ And with that, I was back in my own office, on my side of the door, in my own little world. Kind of like being in Brooklyn.