Through the years Milton and I have seen many plays and musicals together, but in recent weeks we have seen only duds, the most recent being this past Saturday when we attended Lincoln Center Theater’s current stink bomb, A Free Man of Color. A few years ago when we heard that the Public Theater was going to stage this new work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, John Guare, it was going to be directed by George C. Wolfe, and star Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def (now calling himself Mos), we were so excited we shared a fully clothed no-body-parts-touching simultaneous orgasm.
Staging this elaborate production proved too costly for the Public, so they dropped out, and then Lincoln Center Theater stepped in. Having seen this fiasco, we now think that someone at the Public finally took the time to read this muddled pile of words about race in New Orleans between 1801-1806 and said:
Someone at the Public: Holy crap, this is a disaster! How the hell do we get out of staging this train wreck without offending any of the big names attached?
Someone Else at the Public: Plead poverty!
Since Milton and I were unaware of this conversation, we were so elated when we heard it was finally going to be staged, we locked arms and did a happy dance together like two theater-loving fools. The second tickets went on sale to LCT members, we were on the web site placing our order. In hindsight I realize that selecting the one-year anniversary of my colonoscopy to see this show was more symbolic than we knew at that time, but this show is comparable to the agony of colon prep.
Our favorite seats are dead center in the first third of the orchestra, and this was exactly what I ordered. As the old adage goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” Since we got our wish, we were very sorry indeed. By the time our date to see this play arrived, we were familiar with its many negative reviews, as well as the very negative word-of-mouth I encountered from friends that had seen it. Our friend Judy emailed me that it was “godawful” (she panned it eloquently in her blog The Grande Enchilada) and an assistant house manager at a theater company where I usher plays warned me, “The second act’s no better than the first. I envied the people that left at intermission. Let me know what you guys think of it.”
Knowing that this show was toxic, when I met Milton, he did not say hello to me, he greeted me with the following:
Milton: Do you see Michael Moore?
All I saw was a crowd of people. Milton kept insisting I look, but I was blind to this sighting. Once inside the theater, Michael Moore was seated two rows ahead of us, so I was able to see him then. The theater was no more than 75 percent full; another bad sign. Finally, the play started. Jeffrey Wright and Mos took the stage and began babbling endlessly.
Milton and Me (thinking): This sucks.
I glanced at Milton and I noticed that he was sitting with his Playbill pressed against his lips. He later explained to me that this was to ensure he’d stifle his urge to scream. As for me, I could not have nodded out more had I swallowed a fistful of Nembutal. Milton thought that Jeffrey Wright was looking right at us.
Me: He probably saw I was asleep!
Milton: I thought he was looking at me, waiting for me to scream. He knows this show is terrible.
At intermission, the audience applauded anemically, Michael Moore sat stone-faced, and we did something we have never done before.
The title A Free Man of Color had a completely different meaning to Milton as he shouted at the sky:
But have you read the reviews? Seems like us, the poor, benighted audience are living in a parallel universe! Except for Ben Brantley, who killed it with way too much kindness, I’ve read some reviews that have made me seriously consider either checking myself in at Bellevue or sending the critics to a shrink. Actually, I’d like to put them in front of a firing squad, but that is harder in this day and age. Turns out that the play is magnificent and we the audience are a bunch of ignoramuses that don’t get the brilliant references to Feydeau and Moliere and Aristophanes. The nerve! I can’t remember a more galling case of The Emperor’s New Clothes in the theater ever since I moved to NY.
I’m sorry you had to sit through this turd. But I enjoyed reading about it, and thanks for the shout out!
Thank you for writing that spot-on pan sparing Milton and I from having to suffer through Act 2! Gee, I didn’t realize that so many other critics drank the Kool-aid and approved this abomination. Fortunately word of mouth is spreading that this one is a clunker.