Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Day in the Life: The Trickle Down Theory

I had a free day today (let's face it, they're all pretty free these days, but I won't start whining...yet), so I thought I'd finally make an effort to get down to see King Lear at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. The show is in its final week, and they had a noon matinee, just for me and the old folks. I have had some good luck in the past snagging a cheap ticket to these nooners, but alas, today that luck was not with me.

I worked with star Stacy Keach when he played Macbeth back in the 90s, and I came away with a huge respect for the man and his work. I learned a great deal about classical acting just from watching him (and by being slaughtered by him in my own personal duel in Act V; I played Young Siward). The reviews for this Lear have been raves, for Stacy and his costar, Ed Gero (I worked with Ed in that same Macbeth, and was slaughtered by him in Act the Shakes, they always recycle their soldiers to beef up the battlefield. Once you're killed, you crawl offstage and return to fight again).

The lobby of the swanky Harman Center was pretty crowded when I arrived, about half an hour before the curtain, and there were lines at all four windows of the box office. Everyone was picking up their Will Call tickets. I reached the front, and was confronted with one of my biggest pet peeves: talking to somebody through a glass window. At The Shakes, someone has decided the ticket clerks are in such danger, they must be secured behind bullet-proof glass, like cashiers in liquor stores on Skid Row. This perplexes me, as I can't imagine there is much money back there; the top ticket price is now almost 80 bucks, and surely patrons pay with their credit cards much more than using cash.

But what I really hate about this "Clerk Behind the Glass" routine is, I can never understand what the hell the clerk is saying. At The Shakes, each window has its own mic, but the young jerk (and he was a jerk, judging from his attitude toward me) couldn't be bothered to lean over to turn his on. Instead, he muttered some incomprehensible syllables at me, as I asked if there might be seats available. I couldn't read his lips or his mind, so after several minutes, he finally turned on his mic to rudely tell me that the performance was sold out, "of course."

I was less disturbed by this news than I was by this guy's attitude. As I walked around the corner to see a movie instead, I thought about his demeanor toward me, and decided it was just another example of a truism I have observed for years. The overall attitude of a theatre's staffers is a direct reflection of the attitude of the top brass. It does not matter if the theatre has three people on staff, or 300, it's always the same: the attitude at the top trickles down to affect everyone. If the Artistic Director of the company is warm, welcoming, genial, and easy-going, so is the staff. The opposite is also true. At The Shakes, the staff is arrogant, snarky, and disrespectful of their individual audience members, and even of each other. (Not their high-powered donors, of course. Just like all other theatres in the country, The Shakes is feeling the pinch of the economy, shrinking their season, furloughing their employees, etc. They do a great job of keeping the donors pleased. But in their one-on-one interaction with the public at large, the staff reflects the exclusionary attitude of those at the top).

Oh, about that movie I saw instead? Outstanding. (500)Days of Summer is a terrific little film, starring one of my favorite young actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. You surely know him from television; he grew up in front of us, as a star of 3rd Rock From the Sun, and since then, he has made dozens of really interesting movies. His choices are always unusual, which has probably prevented his becoming one of the superstars of his generation, but his work never disappoints.

This film created some buzz at Sundance, and it deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Romantic Comedy, as a genre, is almost always geared toward women, even when the protagonist is a man. This film is smart, funny, endearing, and feels absolutely realistic (despite the occasional fantasy sequence). It feels true to the male of the species.

I was sorry to miss Stacy and Ed flinging their iambs around for three hours today, but I was more than compensated by this terrific movie.

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