I saw six shows on six consecutive days last week, five of them in my capacity as drama critic of The Wall Street Journal:
• The Little Mermaid, the new Disney musical
• A touring production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days starring Fiona Shaw
• A workshop production of a new play by a friend of mine
• Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway production of New Jerusalem, a new play by David Ives whose subtitle is “The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 1656”
How much is too much? That much. To see any six plays in a single week would be a burden. To see an unbroken string of such widely varied shows, three of which were intellectually demanding, is a damned hard row to hoe. Nor did it help that I was simultaneously spending my days writing last Friday’s Wall Street Journal drama column, opening a mountain of accumulated mail, drafting and polishing three sets of new lyrics for The Letter, restarting my temporarily stalled Louis Armstrong biography, and buying a new cellphone to replace my old one, which broke into two pieces Thursday morning due to circumstances beyond my control (don’t ask).
Is it possible to be receptive to art in such distracting conditions? I sure as hell hope so, since that’s my job. What’s more, I think the five people who accompanied me to the shows I saw last week would be the first to tell you that I managed to tune out the world and pay close and careful attention to all six of them. Once I settle myself in my aisle seat and take a few deep breaths, it’s rarely a struggle for me to involve myself in what’s happening onstage.
Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see any of those shows under anything like ideal circumstances. I would have preferred to savor each one individually instead of cramming them down seriatim like a contestant in a wienie-eating contest, just as I would have preferred to clear my head between shows by partaking of other kinds of art. No such luck: I didn’t visit any galleries, didn’t watch any movies, didn’t listen to any music other than as background accompaniment to my daily labors. I did manage to read a book, but it was for professional reasons, not pleasure. I got a copy of Mosaic’s new Woody Herman box in the mail, but I haven’t even opened it yet, much less listened to it.
This week, I’m relieved to say, will be somewhat different. Tonight I’m going to slog through the snow to hear Maria Schneider at the Jazz Standard. Tomorrow afternoon I’m taking a friend to see the Jane Freilicher show at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. I have three plays on my schedule, all of which look promising. Come Saturday morning I’ll head up to Connecticut, and Mrs. T has promised to cook something special when I get there. No, it’s not a vacation, but it’s still a wonderful life, even when it gets slightly out of hand, as it did last week.
“I have the best job in the world,” I told Sarah as we left the theater last Friday night.
“You say that every time we see a show together,” she said.
“Well, it’s true,” I replied. And it is, really and truly.