In August of this year, I went to see the new Broadway musical “A Tale of Two Cities,” which was surely designed to be the latest successor to the internationally popular “Les Miserables.” In other words, another historical epic drawn from the pages of a classic European novel; in this case, Charles Dickens. But unfortunately, like last year’s failed attempt, “The Pirate Queen,” this one suffered from two much ambition and not enough heart. While on the surface, everything looked good and sounded good, there was something missing from the core that left audiences under whelmed by the efforts.
And although I could surely expound on this particular show with many a witticism and criticism, this blog posting is actually not a review of that particular show. But rather about an incident which occurred during the curtain call. As I am a huge fan of theater, and a former actor myself, I like to sit as close as I can to the front of the stage, usually the second or third row. But in the case of “A Tale of Two Cities,” I happened to get an aisle seat in the first row. This allowed me the unique opportunity of viewing the orchestra as well as the stage. Only in this case, the stage was so close to the front row that I found myself straining my neck at times just to be able to watch the action. And when they put the actors on scaffolding that was even higher, I had to recline my head to such a degree that I was practically lying down. But again, this posting is not about my personal discomfort, a topic which I’m sure you’d all be thrilled to suffer through.
No, this posting is about a woman and her companion who were sitting in the second row, across the aisle from me. I had noticed them earlier because of the peculiar expression on the older woman’s face. Or rather the lack of expression. For although she was elegantly dressed and perfectly coiffed, she almost looked catatonic. Her companion, a very stressed out looking woman dressed in unflattering clothing, was constantly fussing about her, making sure her feet were properly placed on the floor, or that she was sufficiently covered from head to toe with her fur coat. I wasn’t sure if the fussy woman was a nurse or her daughter, but she never seemed to stop fussing, even when the performance was going on.
Anyway, during the curtain call, all of a sudden I felt a tug on my arm. When I turned around, I saw that the fussy woman had somehow gotten a wheelchair down the aisle and was now attempting to put the elegant woman in it.
“Can you help me?” she asked in a panic. “Just hold her under the right arm and I’ll get the other side.”
Without a blink, I hopped into action; although I really wasn’t sure I had much of a choice in the matter. Being the tallest man in the fussy woman’s line of vision, I must have seemed like the perfect candidate to be her human fork-lift. As I bent down to pick up this complete stranger, grasping her arm just around the armpit, I caught a glimpse of the elegant woman’s eyes. She was looking at me with both confusion and wonder, as if I was an Angel coming to carry her away. So while it was extremely awkward to do this, I managed to get my arm under her right arm and lift her up enough to help the fussy woman get her in the chair. And it wasn’t like the elegant woman was helping at all---she was basically “dead weight” without any control over her limbs.
Once the woman was successfully in the chair, the fussy woman began pushing and poking at the woman until she was satisfied that she was secure in the seat. She never again turned around or even thanked me for my help. And though I’m not a person who needs that kind of pointless praise, I was a little shocked at how harsh and forceful she was with this older woman, who obviously had little or no motor skills. Leaving the theater that night, I wondered if the older woman even knew where she was or why she was there.
Now we fast forward to last week, when I once again went to the theater to see the new Broadway musical, “Shrek,” which is based on the popular movie series. And while I don’t intend to review this show since it’s still in previews, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Not just a word for word replay of the movie (like the highly annoying “Young Frankenstein”), this adaptation instills new humor and character into the already familiar story. And some of the musical numbers are so hilarious, I was laughing out loud. That isn’t to say the musical doesn’t have its weak moments, but as a whole, it was a very enjoyable evening in the theater. Especially if you just want to go and have a few laughs. (Christopher Sieber is especially hilarious as Lord Farquaad.)
But again, this posting is not about “Shrek,” but rather about what happened during the curtain call. For when I arrived at the theater and took my seat (once again on the aisle in the first row), I was shocked to see the two older woman sitting in the same exact seats behind me. The elegant woman was again “dressed to the nines” as if she was going to a swanky charity ball, and her much stressed out companion was dressed in a frumpy shirt and jeans. And while I found the coincidence to be quite weird, it didn’t even occur to me that the fussy woman would rely on my assistance once again. But true to form, once the curtain call came, the woman tapped on my arm to assist her.
Previous to this, she had a major altercation with one of the ushers during the climactic scene of the show. And all because of a set of stairs that came out from the orchestra pit for a brief moment, so that Shrek could walk down the aisle and walk up on stage. During the intermission, a woman had told me that a door would be opening right next to me and that a pair of stairs would be coming out. So I was not surprised when it happened. I was surprised, however, when the fussy woman suddenly jumped up from her seat, and hovered in the aisle trying to see if the elegant woman’s feet might possibly be crushed from the onslaught of the moving staircase. And though I could clearly see that the woman’s feet were nowhere near the stairs, the woman caused such a ruckus that an usher had to come down the aisle to quiet her down.
As I tried to ignore this, I noticed that Sutton Foster (who plays Fiona) was beginning to watch the altercation as well. And though she remained perfectly in character, I’m sure the distraction in the second row made it very difficult for her to pay attention to Shrek’s impassioned confession of love. Finally the fussy woman settled down, and the show continued without a hitch. Until the curtain call.
Once again, I went into my “good Samaritan” mode and helped the woman into the chair. Only this time, there was an added piece of business that needed to be accomplished.
“Grab the pillow and put it on the chair,” the fussy woman barked at me, as if I was her personal assistant.
So while I was trying to hold the elegant woman under her armpit with one arm, I reached underneath to grab the pillow, which I then threw on the chair as best I could.
“Push it further back,” the fussy woman then barked. “Further back, further back.”
And though I tried to comply with her demands, the elegant woman was already partially on the cushion. So I was afraid that pulling it too harshly would either make her fall forward or even worse, back onto my hand. (A sobering bit of elderly intimacy I could surely do without.)
Once the woman was finally in her chair, the fussy woman again turned her attention to poking and prodding her properly into place, like a pie crust that needed to conform to a certain shape.
As I left the theater, I wondered if I would ever have the “pleasure” of seeing these two old biddies again. Not that I mind helping people out, but it certainly would be nice if they didn’t treat you like crap after you did it.
But that’s just me. Have you ever had a strange experience while helping a stranger?