THE FOURTH WALL FOLLIES
So how were my reviews?
I’m talking about the column I did on Sept. 5, when I told of my experience at a musical where an actor approached me and – as part of the script and direction – started snarling at me and said threatening things albeit all in good fun. In that spirit, I sassed him back by mouthing obscenities and raising my middle finger ostensibly (but not really) to adjust my glasses. The actor was incensed and told me so, which surprised me. Given that he’d broken the fourth wall, wasn’t I within my rights to play along?
Most saw my point. Wrote David Pandozzi, “He’s an actor, for Christ’s sake, AND he shouldn’t be surprised by an audience member’s response no matter good or ‘bad’ in his opinion.” Added Jean Budney, “Fourth wall broken, no holes barred! As an actress, I don’t like breaking the fourth wall, but if I break it, it’s on me! It’s an egotistical control technique on the part of the actor, and attention-seeking after the fact. And why should the audience please HIM?” Martin Freeman saw it Budney’s way, too: “I love it as an audience member and when I was acting loved the interaction with the audience.”
Meish Goldish decided “Too bad you wasted a perfectly good lip-synch (twice) and a hand gesture on someone who didn’t get it. David Mamet would have been proud. Chris Van Ness flatly stated “If any actor ever dared speak to me, I would be right up on stage, having been rightfully invited.” And Ed Weissman judged “The key is BREAKING the 4th wall. If it is broken to include an audience member in the action, that breaks the implicit contract between audience and actor that says the actor acts and the audience reacts.”
Allie Mulholland, who was busy closing his excellent production of A TEXAS TRILOGY, nevertheless took time out to write “The only people who should ever perform in a show are the actors. I purposely avoid a show if there’s even a possibility of audience participation. It makes me mad and nauseous. I feel like I’m a doctor at a cocktail party and everyone is asking me to diagnosis them. It’s just wrong. I’m here to watch, not to work. And it’s 99% done at the embarrassment of the audience member.”
Paul Ford agreed. “I really wouldn’t do more than smile back unless really really really invited to engage. Besides, I’m usually eating my dinner during the show and don’t have time to act.”
Rick Thompson added “I’m on your side here BUT I avoid any show that calls for audience participation of any kind. I don’t go up on stage, and when singers or actors start that performer-called-for clapping along with the song, I’m resolutely motionless. I go to a show, be it theater or concert, to be entertained. That’s the job of the performer, who I’m paying with my ticket. If your show is going to require my participation, be warned: I don’t work for free. Put my name at the bottom and in a box.”
Peter Kelston felt more strongly: “As an audience member, I’m not interested in seeing anything more than the briefest of interactions so the show can move on. I came to hear what the playwright wrote, not what another audience member brings. I view the playwright’s or director’s decision to engage an audience member in that way as a big negative. What was the point of targeting an individual? (I also hated that Don Rickles used audience members in a very unpleasant way -- with personal insults. He almost single-handedly ushered in the era of ‘acceptable’ disrespect.) I don’t think I would not have found your part of the interaction entertaining at all.”
Jon Delfin wasn’t quite on my side, either. “I understand your impulse,” he wrote, “but I think that if the actor were trying to bully you, then lacking a neutral reaction, you might have been more in the spirit and in the moment if you had acted bullied. Instead, you escalated, and what in the theater world was he supposed to do with that?”
Joe Keenan brought up another issue: “Perhaps the actor’s umbrage might have stemmed from how small and covert your response was. He was berating you loudly in character for the whole audience to hear. By mouthing your response and offering a furtive finger he might have thought you were responding more to him personally than to his character. He was breaking the fourth wall, but felt you were just sending him a review via IM.”
Finally, Bill Downs’ reaction was “You saw TONY ‘N TINA 10 times? I’m speechless.”
— Peter Filichia