Over the years I have seen many plays and musicals with Milton. Nothing is better than seeing theater magic with one’s dearest friend and fellow theater whore. But every so often, we draw the short straw and see a dud. That is exactly what happened the other night when we attended the Lincoln Center Theater production of Nikolai and the Others.
Since we’re members of LCT, we get the discount ticket price, $40. Non-members pay $85. When we see theatrical gems like South Pacific for pennies on the dollar, we gloat, but when we see the theatrical equivalent of a sedative, we snore. Or at least I did.
The play was set in the Connecticut countryside in 1948 where several prominent Russian artists living in the US have gathered for a languid talk-filled weekend. They talk, they eat, they talk more and I sleep. George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky are two of the characters. They’re collaborating on adapting “Orpheus” into a ballet. We even see a small preview of that ballet as imagined as a work-in-progress dance by the playwright Richard Nelson and the director, David Cromer. I regain consciousness for that dance segment, but when intermission finally arrives a fortnight later, I blurt:
Me: I feel like I’m being held hostage!
Milton blurts back:
Milton: If you want to leave right now, I’m completely okay with it!
Was I content with attending only $20 worth of this production? Even though I completely lost consciousness through approximately $18.47 worth of my ticket’s price, I have a natural aversion to walking out on shows that cost me my hard earned shekels. I reason that I can survive sitting though another hour of this yak-fest, but if we left early, I can also get a jump on cleaning my bathroom, a project that would be so much more stimulating. Milton senses my ambivalence about what to do. He turns Ninja and goes for the kill.
Milton: What if you only have one hour of life left? Would you really want to spend it watching this?
What a horrible way to go, literally bored to death. I know I hate this play, but maybe there’s a pleasant surprise in the second act, maybe there’s a live animal on stage. Last month, when we saw the flaccid Broadway adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s there was a cat actor playing the cat called Cat. Milton observed about the cat that played Cat:
Milton: The cat was the only actor on stage that I liked.
Me: The cat’s what got me through it.
We later learned that we were actually watching the cat understudy for it did not look like either cat in our Playbill, Moo or Vito Vincent.
Back to our more recent situation with Nikolai, Milton reads his Playbill. His eyes widen in horror.
Milton: Oh, my! We just saw the short act. It runs another hour and a half after intermission!
Less than five minutes later, Milton and I are out on the street breathing in the cool night air. We embrace our liberty. Milton declares for all to hear on upper Broadway:
Milton: I much prefer breathing, walking, moving, anything to having to watch any more of that!
Me: Why was it even staged? It’s not very theatrical.
Milton: Michael Cerveris [the actor who played Balanchine] must have an expensive mortgage. Were you awake for any of it? Every time I looked over at you, you looked asleep.
Me: I enjoyed watching the actress that played the ballet dancer Maria Tallchief.
Milton: You liked her? How could you? She was so thin! All I saw when I looked at her were bones. Bones sticking out everywhere! Ugh! Eat a sandwich, please!
Me: Date-wise, yes, I prefer women I’m not going to cut myself on, but I thought the dance sequence was good. Did you at least like the guy?
Milton: Yes, I did. He was beautiful. What buns on him!
Me: If you were so fixated on his ass, we could have stayed.
Milton: Those buns of fun weren’t enough to keep me in my seat.
When I return home, I finally read Ben Brantley’s review in the New York Times. This is my favorite passage:
“”Nikolai and the Others,” … cannot be recommended to people of limited patience. Honesty compels me to mention that there were an appreciable number of empty seats after intermission and that the elderly fellow behind me, who stayed on, snored heartily through most of the second act.”