The New York theater season is hurtling toward its annual climax. As of this morning, I have thirteen more shows to see between now and April 24, when Cabaret opens and the Tony Awards eligibility period comes to an end. Some I long to see, others I dread, but even if I had good reason to expect them all to be terrific, that would still be too damn much theater.
It is, however, my job to be as receptive as possible to each show, and I take that job quite seriously indeed. On Tuesday I paid a visit to Yale’s Morse College (designed by Eero Saarinen, thank you very much!) and spoke to two wonderfully receptive groups of students about my work as a critic and playwright. One of the things that I told them was that I try to empty my mind of all preconceptions about a show just before the curtain goes up, and that I have no doubt of my ability to do so.
How can I know this? Because after eleven years at The Wall Street Journal, I’m still capable of being surprised by the excellence of a show that I expected to dislike.
I walked into the theater earlier this month fully planning on panning Rocky and Les Misérables, and ended up writing–much to my surprise–favorable reviews. In the latter case I was so surprised that I actually leaned over to my companion for the evening ten minutes into the performance and whispered, “I can’t believe I’m actually going to be writing a good review of Les Miz!” That’s how I know I’m seeing the show on stage, not the one in my head.
The trouble with all this nonstop theatergoing, of course, is that it leaves me with little time to do anything else. I saw two shows and wrote three pieces last week. I’ll be seeing four shows and writing one piece this week. When I’m not thinking about other people’s shows, I’m thinking about my own show. That’s not the way I like to live.
Fortunately, I have enough spare time to read about other things, even if I can’t actually do any of them. I’ve also been managing to listen to a fair amount of music, mostly classical, on the side. Yesterday I made time to listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Accademico and Malcolm Arnold’s Two-Violin Concerto, for instance, neither of which had anything obvious to do with my stage-related duties. I also reread Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home and My Happy Life, Darius Milhaud’s delightful memoir, which has put me in the mood to listen to some of his life-enhancingly sunny music as well. And though I’m too overcommitted to cram in a visit to a museum or gallery, it’s my great good fortune to live with a couple of dozen pieces of modern art (the one pictured here is “Composition Jaune/Grise,” a 1990 lithograph by Joan Mitchell) whose presence in the apartment does much to keep me on an even keel.
So yes, I’m coping–just about. But I long vainly for just a bit more of that precious commodity to which Asegai, one of the characters in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, whose second Broadway revival I saw on Saturday, refers with dry amusement: “Don’t get up. Just sit a while and think. Never be afraid to sit a while and think.” If only I could.