Shutteth Up!

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The BYU Theater Department is currently performing William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and I think I speak for us all when I say, “Forsooth! what doth yon bequiddle?”

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m going to make a bunch of cheap jokes about Shakespeare, just because he’s very popular among snooty people and therefore seems like the kind of icon I would target with my unique and award-winning brand of humor and sarcasm. Well, frankly, your hasty and superficial judgments make me choke on my own bile, and I demand an apology.

Far be it from me to make fun of Shakespeare. What is there to make fun of? The fact that he wrote long, odd plays in which every single major character either goes crazy, dies, or goes crazy and THEN dies? Or maybe the fact that his plays contain many dirty Elizabethan jokes that make snooty English teachers gush about what a comic genius he was, but that if YOU were to tell them, would get you kicked out of school, particularly if you tried to tell them in The Daily Universe, which I am not even going to try? Or maybe you think I should joke about how Shakespeare would frequently have his characters stand onstage and babble on and on about stuff for half an act or so, at which point some designated stagehand would have to make loud noises in order to wake the audience from its deep slumber. Or how sometimes the stagehand himself would fall asleep during the speech, and the audience would wind up staying the night, or how sometimes even the actors would fall asleep, including the one who was talking:

“To be, or not to be — that is the quesZZX-XXXZ-ZZZ-ZZZZzzzx.”

Well, I’m not going to make those jokes, because there are bigger fish to drop from the frying pan into the fire. For example, there is the issue of people who can’t shut up and who need to be hit in the head with bricks. I watched “Romeo and Juliet” on its opening night and was disturbed throughout most of the play by several people behind me who kept talking, despite the fact that I kept turning around and glaring quite specifically at them. They surely cannot have mistaken my glare for a smile, for my glare is unmistakable. Often, even when I AM smiling, people think I am glaring. And surely they cannot have been at a loss to explain WHY I was glaring at them, unless they’re not only stupid but UNAWARE that they’re stupid.

But the talkers were not as bad as the candy eaters, whom I have considered taking legal action against. It is hard to imagine, but these people smuggled some candy into the Pardoe Theatre and began eating it after intermission. I do not know what kind of candy it was, but from the way it sounded, I would guess it was a bag of Skittles in which each Skittle was individually wrapped in the loudest celophane known to man. These people even had cans of soda (or “pop,” as some have incorrectly called it) (and no, I’m not going to get into THAT).

I don’t wish to come across as a high-class snob, but who raised these people? Hyenas? How poorly bred do you have to be to NOT know that you don’t talk during a play, and that you do NOT bring candy and drinks into the theater? I realize that at the movies, food is OK, and that at home, even talking might be OK. But in the theater, where people are doing plays, you shut up, and you go hungry. The only exception would be if you are a shrew and must eat your body weight in food every hour or else you will die. And I cannot think of an exception for the talking thing.

Come on, kids. Do you HAVE to talk? I know the play is boring. I know that, thanks to the weird quasi-British accent that Shakespearian actors feel compelled to use, you can’t understand half the words that come out of their mouths, and that even if you can make out all the words, you often still don’t actually know what they’re talking about. I know all this. I experienced all this. And yet — I managed to be quiet the entire time. Fancy that! I actually shut up and watched the play, with nothing but an Altoid to tide me over. The only time I said a word was when I leaned over and quietly pointed out to my date that Mercutio was still breathing very heavily, despite the fact that he was dead. But no one could hear this except my date. You kids didn’t hear it. Even if I had said it loudly enough, I doubt you could have heard anything over the din caused by the candy wrappers.

I would also like to discuss a similar experience I had when I tried to watch “Oedipus Rex” at International Cinema last week. Most people go to International Cinema solely because they have to, of course, which means they often do not appreciate the fine art being shown. “Oedipus Rex” is a particularly fine piece of art about a man who accidentally marries his own mother, which, as you can imagine, is a highly embarrassing predicament. “Whoops!” is probably all I would be able to think of saying, were I in that situation. (Also: “Sorry!”)

But despite the important themes of family and love being portrayed artfully (i.e., weirdly) on the screen, many people were talking during the film, and occasionally even laughing, even at the very serious and moving part where Oedipus’s mother/wife hangs herself and Oedipus stabs out his own eyes with a pin. “That should solve everything!” is probably what he was thinking, and I can see (get it?!) his logic.

My proposal for solving this epidemic of inappropriate talking is the same as my proposal for dealing with a lot of unpleasant things: poison darts. One dart to the neck, and Mr. Loud-Pants is out for the night. Try it, it’s fun! Thank you.

During the lengthy review process for this column, nothing was questioned except for a couple of minor grammar and style suggestions. I thought for sure someone would think "bile" was too graphic, but apparently not.

Some of the Shakespeare jokes were taken from a very old column I wrote for the Lake Elsinore News in 1991. As usual, I make no apologies for plagiarizing from myself.

BYU's production of "Romeo and Juliet" was pretty good, although the fellow who played Romeo was so expressionless he made Keanu Reeves look like Jim Carrey. It was mostly his fault, I'd wager, that Romeo and Juliet had no chemistry between them -- his, or whoever cast him in the part, I guess.

And I'm told that Mercutio's breathing-while-dead trick was fixed for subsequent performances, by having someone stand in front of him so the audience couldn't see. I felt a little bad making the joke, since Christopher Clark, who played Mercutio, was brilliant in the role and is a good friend. But at the same time, it WAS really funny to see him breathing so heavily after being killed. So in the struggle between not wanting to hurt someone's feelings and wanting to be funny, the victor was, as usual, the latter. Fortunately, Chris forgave me.

One person who will evidently not soon forgive me is Melissa S. Benson, who sent this e-mail:

Unfortunately your column this Monday lacked the usual comedy you have been known for. I would have stuck with where you were seeming to go. Making fun of the play itself. Although when you were doing that, unfortunately you were insulting your own intelligence. Maybe picking a whole different subject next time eh?

And ah, Eric, you ever think about putting a new picture on the front of your column? It only adds to the lameness of your not-so-funny article.

Melissa S. Benson

The part about the photo -- ouch! I wrote back with the lamentable fact that it is the only face I have, and I'm sorry she doesn't like it.

As for the rest, well, I got a few e-mails from people who whole-heartedly supported my stand on talkers and noise-makers. A few other people commented that the column as a whole was not as great as some others had been, but that was inevitable. I had pretty much exhausted the topics EVERYONE could relate to. It was time to move into a few specifics, and Shakespeare was one of them. I wrote about weight lifting the previous week; how more diverse in subject matter could I get? Someone's bound to not like something.

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