The truth about Zephyr Teachout and me

Zephyr TeachoutNo, Zephyr Teachout and I are not related, at least so far as we know. Yes, we are good friends. (In fact, we call one another “Cuz” for fun.) I sought her out a number of years ago after running across her name in a news story, and we discovered at once that we liked each other. (Mrs. T likes her, too.) We go to the theater together whenever our schedules overlap. Yes, we disagree about a lot of things. No, that doesn’t matter in the least bit to either of us.


UPDATE: And yes, I have lots of trans-ideological friendships. How about you?

One more thing: as long as you’re here, why not read something else?

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One more time

Mrs. T and I took a friend to see Satchmo at the Waldorf on Friday. An unusually large and responsive crowd showed up, and John Douglas Thompson fed off its excitement. He always gives a good performance—I’m awed by his consistency—but he was flying that night. Every line landed and every detail registered.

The response at evening’s end reminded me of the scene in Satchmo in which Louis Armstrong describes what happened the first time he sang “Hello, Dolly!” in public:

Everybody there, they go ooooh! All at once, just like that. And when we finished, they start yelling. Not clapping—yelling. Like they gonna tear the house down. And I lean over to the piano player and I say, “I do believe they like it.”

tn-500_satchmocurtwm20147560No doubt John was intensely aware, as I was, of the fact that the New York run of Satchmo will end on Sunday afternoon. While I have reason to expect that the show will be produced in other cities, and that John will perform it in at least some of those cities, it’s still going to be tough to ring down the figurative curtain (Satchmo, like most modern plays, doesn’t have an actual curtain) on the final performance.

In a manner of speaking, I’ll also be ringing down the curtain on the 2013-14 season, which for me was quite a year. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington was published in October, a week after the Louisville premiere of The King’s Man, my third operatic collaboration with Paul Moravec. Satchmo opened in New York in March, and I received the Bradley Prize last week.

In 2009 I had occasion to recall in this space the opening lines of one of my favorite movies, My Favorite Year: “Nineteen fifty-four. You don’t get years like that anymore. It was my favorite year.” I reminded myself at the time that anyone as lucky as I’d just been “has no business complaining about anything whatsoever. Today I’m as thankful as it’s possible to be, and I hope I have the good sense to remain so for some time to come.”

Would that such gratitude were more firmly rooted in man’s psyche! Alas, I fear it’s not in our natures to recall such high-minded sentiments for very long. La Rochefoucauld, that cynic of cynics, actually went so far as to claim that “the gratitude of most men is but a secret desire of receiving greater benefits.” Maybe so, maybe not, but it’s certainly true that we must perpetually remind ourselves to be grateful, which is why we celebrate Thanksgiving each year. Yet as wistful as it will surely feel fo me to watch John perform Satchmo at the Waldorf one last time on the stage of New York’s Westside Theatre, I don’t think I’ll need any such reminders, at least not for a while.

Mrs. T and I are celebrating our good fortune by taking two weeks off, something we haven’t done for a long time. My Friday drama column for The Wall Street Journal is already written and filed, and we’re heading out to one of our secret hideaways this afternoon. We’ll be driving into New York just long enough to see the final performance of Satchmo, and since next Friday is July 4, I won’t be writing a column that day. As always, this blog will continue to operate, but otherwise I’ll be on ice.

We’ll be back on July 7. Wave if you see us passing by.

* * *

Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars perform “Hello, Dolly!” on stage in Paris in 1965:

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Up to here

When I went to see Satchmo at the Waldorf on Friday, a middle-aged woman sitting in the center of the second row pulled out her cellphone midway through the performance and spent five minutes checking her e-mail. The upstairs auditorium of the Westside Theatre is steeply raked, meaning that the phone was clearly visible to most of the audience—and the light that it emitted made the woman in question just as visible to John Douglas Thompson, who was standing in front of her.

movie_theater_1“I thought of chewing her out in character,” John told me after the show. “It didn’t matter which character I was playing—I could have cussed her out as Satchmo, Joe Glaser, or Miles Davis. The only thing that stopped me was that I was afraid I’d go up in my lines. Otherwise I would have given her hell.”

“If I’d been sitting behind her, I would have given her hell,” I replied. As for Mrs. T, she was too busy spluttering with rage to put in her two cents’ worth.

I’ve seen a fair amount of uncivil behavior in theaters over the years, so it takes a lot to make me boggle—but that did it. To check your e-mail in the middle of a performance is rude no matter where you’re sitting. To do it when you’re fifteen feet away from the stage upon which a one-man play is being performed is unforgivable.

The most effective turn-off-your-cellphones announcement I’ve ever heard preceded a performance by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company of David Mamet’s American Buffalo. It went like this: Turn off your ******* phones. (I’ll let you fill in the blank.)

Short of that extremity, I doubt that any pre-show announcement, no matter how clever, will persuade the boors among us to clean up their act. The time, then, has come for an unrelentingly aggressive campaign of public shaming. From now on, I swear to chew out on the spot any playgoer whom I catch using a cellphone in the middle of a performance. So should you. So should we all—and so should every stage actor in America.

The next time it happens to John, I want him to stop the show cold, point at the offender, and say, “I can see that you’re using a cellphone. That’s inconsiderate and disrespectful, not just to me but to everyone who bought a ticket to the show. So please turn it off—right now—or one of the ushers will escort you out of the theater.”

That’ll shut ’em down.

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Almanac: John P. Marquand on remembered humiliation

INK BOTTLE“From Walter there came an aura, a warm triumphant glow that made Jeffrey wonder whether all triumphs were not the same and whether the solace which anyone derived from them might not be based upon some half-forgotten slight.”

John P. Marquand, So Little Time

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