Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Sucker Born Every Minute

You might remember one of the memorable episodes in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn—the stunt pulled by the characters known as “the Duke” and “the King,” scam artists Huck runs into while rafting on the Mississippi.  

The pair rent out a theater and then advertise a performance of a show they call "The Royal Nonesuch," to which women and children are not to be admitted. Naturally, all of the men in town—expecting some X-rated action—buy up the tickets, only to learn they have been hoodwinked when all they get for their money is the sight of “the King” prancing in his birthday suit across the stage. 

Tonight, I felt like one of Mr. Twain’s suckers. 

I attended what was advertised to be a performance of Tennessee Williams’ seldom-produced play, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, at the New World Stages.  I am a long-time admirer of Williams’ work and welcomed the opportunity to see this play about an artist barely clinging to his sanity.   

So…the audience is sitting there 15 minutes past curtain time, with nothing but a makeshift set suggestive of a bar to look at, when out bounces someone who introduces herself as Maria Torres, the director/choreographer. 

Ms. Torres announces that they will be unable to perform the play because a member of the cast was not able to go on (whether due to sickness or injury was unclear, at least to me).  However, she didn’t want us to leave empty-handed; instead she wanted to share with us a bit of what it was we would have seen if we had, indeed, seen it. 

She awkwardly read aloud a couple of paragraphs from the program and explained how they had intended to embellish the play with bits of choreography and works of art to make the production more multi-dimensional (as if Tennessee Williams were incapable of accomplishing this through his use of language).  She then brought out a couple of performers who gave us two very brief segments of under-rehearsed (improvised?) choreographed movement. 

The whole thing lasted perhaps ten minutes, including a very lengthy pause between the first and second fragment. 

And that was it.  Ms. Torres sent us on our merry way, expressing the hope that we had been sufficiently intrigued to come back when things were up and running. 

Members of the audience were dumbfounded.  And no one on the staff at New World Stages would take any responsibility for this fiasco, which they were surely aware of long before we all showed up. One couple I spoke with said they had understood the actors would be performing with scripts in hand.  I also overheard someone else saying some ticketholders had been contacted earlier in the day about the pending cancellation.  

In any event, we were marched out to the exit without so much as a sheepish apology—much less the offer of a refund or rain check. 

I must say, in over fifty years of theatergoing, I’ve never experienced anything like this.  Yes, there have been canceled shows, but these have always been accompanied with apologies and refunds or tickets for another performance.   

Not this time. 

Caveat Emptor, everyone!

Feel free to tell your friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.


  1. Actually I talked casually with the NWS staff after this happened -- they had no idea about it until it actually happened

    1. I hope it's true, but I did overhear a staff member telling someone that they had contacted everyone for whom they had a telephone number--which suggests that there was some indication of a problem before the events I describe took place.

  2. It is my understanding that everyone who attended that evenings performance with a PAID ticket was offered a refund or subsequent opportunity to return another day. Comp tickets were arranged through outside vendors, and as such, would need to be renewed with the comp ticket distributor. If you did have a paid ticket and were not offered anything, perhaps you got missed accidentally. I'd suggest contacting Telecharge and explaining the situation.

    I also overheard that theatre staff was informed that the show would be performed script-in-hand, and were equally troubled at the decision to perform only a portion of the show. The decision to do otherwise was apparently a last minute decision by the show's creative and producing team, with minimal indication to NWS staff. The producer's as far as I understand are actually not involved with NWS, simply renting the space. I'm sure it caused a lot of waves with the NWS organizaion too.

  3. I know these people. The "producer/ actor" unfortunately is a grifter spin doctor who can't seem to keep an acting gig he doesn't cast himself in. Put bluntly, he's burned a lot of bridges due to lack of professional abilities, an inability to show up and rehearse properly and not having a clue to how theater gets made. The Post got it right in saying something "pernicious" is going on here, but it was hardly the last- minute replacement actress' fault. It's a hubris-riddled vanity project train wreck. I hope NWS got all their money up front is all I can say.