The preview shows run smoothly. I begin to notice a pattern in the audience’s reactions to my exit and Thom’s subsequent tirade. They come in two basic flavors, a camaraderie that strengthens or dissipates when Todd let’s the French fly. Each time I rise from my seat, I imagine a few hundred stomachs flipping in unison, and for those first few seconds I’m the biggest asshole in the room. But once the audience hears that invective—“Au Revoir, Cunt!”—there are only two basic reactions: Guffaws or Gasps, the behaviorist equivalent to a Yea or Nay vote.
The younger audiences love this moment—no surprise. Most catch on to the artifice right away, and the play winds on unimpeded, with everyone firmly dialed in to the show’s irreverent tone. Every callous phrase or unsavory comment that dribbles from Thom Pain’s mouth is received with punished glee. What will he say next? But they have just witnessed the pinnacle of Pain’s ire. From “Cunt”, Pain’s combative streak fades gradually, transforming into something a more somber and searching. A wise move on Eno’s part.
However, for the traditionalists in the audience, the play seems to offer little more than a narcissistic pottymouth suddenly coming unhinged. Walk-outs are frequent, and refunds almost always demanded. Theater policy states clearly that no refunds will be given, but the smoldering disgust some patrons drag from the theater with them has been so great that it’s put money back into a few purses. One evening late in the preview run, a particularly irate couple, soured by this drama’s distinctive lack of drama, exits with me as I hustle out of the theater, and I am forced to exit the theater entirely before doubling back to change out of my costume.
Frequently, what appears to be my silent opposition to the play opens the floodgates of dissent, legitimizing other peoples’ urge to stick a thumb in the eye of polite restraint and just leave.
But this is as it should be. The playwright has anticipated the possibility of such reactions. What he hasn’t counted on are the vain antics of a bored audience plant mucking around with his drama, and his schemes to begin the show before the curtain has drawn back. Fortunately, this plant hasn’t succeeded in doing any real damage. Over the course of six preview runs, I haven’t managed to stir anything more that a few odd looks and insipid lines of encouragement:
“I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere.”
“It’s probably in the Lobby.”
“Maybe drink some water….”
And yet, perhaps the casual brevity of our interactions is evidence of my success, for I have stirred a natural empathy in people that no acknowledged artifice could manage. But is it theater when the audience doesn’t know it’s an audience?
Return to Part V / Read Part VII