Tuesday, December 29, 2015

'I Have to Hang Up Now'
(Tying Up Loose Ends, Pt. 1)

It was pretty easy to read the mind of Megan Buckley-Ball moments into her curtain speech at the final performance of "The Velocity of Autumn" at Matrix Theatre in Southwest Detroit.

Buckley-Ball, the theater's artistic director, had just walked onto the stage to welcome the sold-out crowd to Matrix. After she greeted the audience, she did what has now become standard operating procedure at every theater I attend: She asked people to take out their cell phones and turn them off. Not silent them, but turn them off.

Before she could continue her speech, however, I heard a very loud stage whisper coming from somewhere to my left. (I was seated in the second row on the far right side of the theater.) "I have to hang up now," the voice said. "They're telling us to turn off our cellphones."

I quickly zeroed in on the culprit. And surprisingly enough, it was an older woman sitting directly in front of Buckley-Ball - so close, in fact, that Megan could have reached out and snatched the phone away from the woman if she wanted to. But she didn't.

Buckley-Ball stared at the woman for a few seconds with an expression that said, "Really? You're having a conversation now?"

With the entire house now focused on her, wouldn't you think the woman would be embarrassed enough that she'd quickly end the conversation? Well, she didn't. Apparently, she'd rather be rude to several dozen people waiting for the show to begin than whomever it was she was talking to on the phone, because the conversation continued for what seemed to be an eternity. (In actuality, it probably lasted less than another 30 seconds, but it seemed longer.)

If my phone wasn't turned off, I would have shot some video or snapped a few photos to capture the expression on Buckley-Ball's face. It was priceless, as her smile slid from bemusement to "I can't believe she's still talking on the %$^&*$# phone!" And for a second, I though I saw a flash of "If I could kill the %#$@ and get away with it I would; we have a show to get moving here!"

But Buckley-Ball - who's doing a great job re-invigorating Matrix since the retirement of founder Shaun S. Nethercott, by the way - gracefully smiled and looked at the audience as if to say, "Can you believe this?" until the call ended. Which it finally did, and the phone was stored away. (Notice what I didn't say; stay tuned!)

Shortly thereafter, the show began.

"The Velocity of Autumn" by Eric Coble is a story many of us with aging parents can relate to - that of an aging woman whose children believe she can no longer care for herself. After living for decades in her Brooklyn apartment, Alexandra's children want to uproot her and force her into an assisted living type of arrangement. Fiercely independent, Alexandra wants to remain in her own home - and to prove her point, threatens to burn the place down should they forcibly try to evict her.

At their wits' end, two of her children call in the reserves for help - meaning her long-estranged son, Chris, to talk some sense into her.

The result was quite an amazing afternoon of live theater - so much so, that nary a peep was heard from the audience throughout its 90-minute, intermission-free running time.

Until, that is, during one of the most critical moments of the show, a muffled buzzing could be heard. Not once. Not twice. Rather, someone's phone buzzed for upwards of a minute - and based upon the reactions from around the audience, I suspect I know where it was coming from. And no, no attempt was made to turn it off.

Surprisingly - given the fact that the buzzing was mere inches away from them - actors Jane MacFarlane and Chris Korte didn't miss a beat; if it impacted their focus, they didn't let it show.

But that didn't surprise me, as the pair (and director David Wolber) had an earlier crisis to overcome, which they also accomplished quite well. A week or so before the show opened, MacFarlane broke a kneecap. But since the show must go on, it was decided to put Alexandra in a wheelchair, which would add new depth to the character (and which made sense, given the plot of the story). And so the staging was reblocked, and few - including critics - gave it a second thought.

All three should be proud of their work.

And Matrix Theatre's 25th anniversary season is certainly one to remember!

1 comment:

  1. a tiny drone could be equipped with a squirt gun to drench the offender and make them leave the auditorium, or one could have big guys come out and give the offender the bums rush, whatever.