For the second time I have tried to see Wally Shawn’s hit revival at the Public, “The Designated Mourner,” and twice I have gotten just thisclose to winning one of the prized twenty-dollar tickets. But always, I’m one or two souls away from the Golden Fleece when they announce they have no more seats.
I have no real bones to pick with the process; after all, they are making it possible for at least six people a night to see what I’m told is a real tour de force about the end of culture for little money. The hit dystopic show is sold out and that’s pretty funny… like a sort of Independence Day for readers. There are, of course, stand by tickets for those who will linger half an hour before the show and pay full price for a seat that has become available, and that too, is good if you have the dough.
What I do find peculiar is the ‘we know nothing’ attitude of the staff who when asked early in the wait if they have any idea of how many tickets might be free, seemed to have signed an oath of allegiance to the producers, “reveal the secret of the seats and your job is but a memory!” Something like this goes on at the plays in Central Park, too. The staff is always a bit fuzzy about how good one’s chances are to get in. But that’s a big arena, and they might be telling the truth.
Twice the ticket sellers have told me that they wouldn’t have an idea of ticket availability until five o’clock when the cheap tickets are distributed. How can that be… is it the policy to put a few seats away every night for the poor or do they sell like Tkts what’s left after the higher priced seats have been bought? But then the show is sold out already, so they must know what’s in the box ready for selling. Right?
As if in keeping with the magical mystery ticket performance, somewhere about four thirty, a member of the staff starts counting heads in the line, which by that time, snakes around the building three times. He then tells the last quarter of theatre lovers that “they most likely, definitely will not get in.”
This, of course, gives those of us in the first bit of eight, a sense of false success. The dispenser of hope didn’t actually say that we would get in, but certainly didn’t say anything as discouraging as, “go home, now.” So by the time the five o’clock bell has struck, we are all excited (except me, being an alumni at rejection) and start pulling out our sweaty dollars for the coveted ticket.
And then, we hear with horror… “That’s it, there are no more”… just when you’re a person and a half away from getting a seat.
In speculating why they do this, one of my new “friends” from the line figured it was a marketing device — keep the excitement for the show up by torturing theatre lovers. It surely fills the lobby with art hungry people who will easily kill an afternoon just to see a play about how awful everything is becoming. Someone else, an ex-lawyer from Kentucky, decided it was a good way to teach theatre lovers a lesson…don’t wait till the reviews, risk it and buy a ticket early in the game. Fine, but they are still beyond some people’s pocket and that’s why the RUSH idea is so just.
I like Mr. Shawn. I loved MY DINNER WITH ANDRE and blatantly stole the title for my film MY DINNER WITH ABBIE. And I once was almost in an acting class with Mr. Gregory until he decided he didn’t feel like running a class that semester.
So yes, I did have a few hours I didn’t mind losing and I’m not angry at the Public’s procedural style…. though perplexed at the absurdity. In a sense, however, the waiting in line is the true theatrical event. Though improvised, and maybe not so well written, it becomes a fine place to observe patience, levity, disappointment, and hope, and the characters who grudgingly comply with the rules of order, despite themselves.