Shmildren of Shmeden

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We have more than our share of community theater in Utah County, and our love for the arts is admirable. Unfortunately, some of the theater is very, very bad, and I fear our love for the arts goes unrequited, and perhaps we are no longer loving the arts so much as stalking them.

A few months ago I saw a play in which a man pretends to be a famous rock star so he can defraud some people in a small town. It is a wacky farce, which in the playwright’s mind meant that nothing had to make sense. The con man, for instance, was knocked unconscious twice in the play, once by a plunger, and once by an oil-painting canvas. I suppose an actual punch in the face would have killed him, as his skull is apparently made of gelatin.

This play also had one of those semi-deaf old-man characters who hear things incorrectly and overreact to them. Someone would say, “That’s a nice tie,” and he would freak out and say, “Mice?! Where are there mice?!” as he jumped onto a chair and looked around frantically. In real life, of course, if you believe someone has told you something unusual or impossible, you say, “What?” or “You’re crazy!” before devoting your full energy to reacting to it.

But this unrealistic character made me think of two fun new characters. First is the Guy Who Hears Things Really Wrong. You say, “Pass the salt, Grandpa,” and he replies, “What? My hair’s on fire?!” Or if you say, “That’s a nice tie,” he says, “The world is ending?! Oh, no!!!”

My other new character is the Guy Who Hears Things in Yiddish. When you say, “Look at that gorgeous house,” he says, “‘Shmorgeous shmouse?’ What’s a ‘shmorgeous shmouse’?” Or if you ask, “Where’s the bathroom?,” he replies, “‘Shmathroom’? What’s a ‘shmathroom’?”

So I ruminated upon the occasionally dreadful state of theater, and then I realized: Maybe we don’t deserve good theater.

This occurred to me while watching “Children of Eden” at the SCERA Shell the other night. A man in the audience answered his cellphone during the show and then talked on it for about a minute, casually, before hanging up. I don’t know this man or his background, but clearly he is the stupidest man in the world. He must be, if he thinks it’s OK to talk on his phone during a play. What puzzled me is how someone as stupid as he must be is able to dress himself and go outside and be part of society. Shouldn’t he be in a zoo or an institution, being studied by scientists? But maybe the phone call was urgent. Maybe it was the lost and found, letting him know they’d found his 11 missing chromosomes.

Then there are the people who watch the show but miss the point. “Children of Eden” uses biblical figures and basic Bible stories to depict greater allegorical messages. It is not to be taken literally, much less as doctrine. Yet here was a woman during intermission saying, in a very smarmy voice, “I didn’t realize Adam hit his children.” She was referring to the part of the play where Cain, about to go nuts and do some killin’, gets slapped by Adam.

Well. I didn’t know God sang baritone, either, but there it is, right there in the show. Right there in the show whose printed program, I guess, says, “Book by God; music and lyrics by the Bible.” This is theater, people, not Sunday School. You can tell because everyone’s awake. (Unless you’re at the Hale, that is, where a woman sat in the very front row and slept through all of “Phantom,” despite the show being interesting and loud. Her husband was with her, and I thought: Sir, if your wife is in a coma, leave her at home, or at least out in the car.)

Also during “Children of Eden,” when performers came onstage in animal costumes to get on the Ark, people in the audience would say out loud which animal it was. This is because when you have a thought, it is best to vocalize it. No one will ever know you recognized the peacocks unless you say, “Peacocks!”

So maybe the bad theater is our punishment for being bad audiences when we have good theater. It’s all karma, you know, or possibly shmarma. Now if you’ll excuse me, my hair is on fire.

I guess it's pretty clear what inspired this column. The play mentioned in the first part was "Throwing Stones," written by Bill Brown and produced at his Little Brown Theatre in Springville. (I did not write a review of it.) He also owns the Villa Playhouse, which is the site of the worst play I've ever seen, "The Storm Testament." "Throwing Stones," I believe, is No. 3 on the list (after "Star Child," the sequel to "Saturday's Warrior").

"Children of Eden" is probably my favorite musical of all time. The SCERA production was only the second time I'd seen it, after BYU's legendary 1999 version, which managed to go over well despite featuring non-doctrine. Years and years after the fact, you still hear people talk about the show, and who was in it, and stuff like that. It was the rare instance of the music/dance/theater department finding people who were capable of all three.

This probably will not hold true for you, but to me, the Guy Who Hears Things in Yiddish is the funniest thing in the world.

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