Something Rotten

Last Sunday Jackie and I saw Something Rotten, a high energy musical that would be well beyond my acting capabilities even if my role was that of a black plague victim.

Performed by two dozen Nordhoff High School students at Ojai’s Matilija Middle School auditorium, the play was presented in a single weekend of three performances. A testament to the tenacity of the students, it mattered little to them that they went through months of preparation for just a handful of performances.

The play is set in 1595 and chronicles the difficulties encountered by an out-of-ideas playwright searching for a hit. He enlists the aid of an oracle and runs up against the idea-stealing Will Shakespeare, a tight-fisted royal financier, and skeptical friends.

The choreography was worthy of an Emmy, and the costumes took no back seat to Edith Head or Bob Mackie. The sets were professional, and changes to them were carried off with little intrusion or fumbling.

The most impressive component of the show was the cast that included sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Children a lot more mature than their years danced and sang with skills that for many were the result of years of private lessons. Some youngsters had been in multiple plays, a fete that could only have been achieved by passion and dedication.

But I wish I could have heard what they said.

We had seats in row J on the aisle, more than halfway from the stage. Funny, when I booked the tickets, I could have sworn they were closer to the stage; not that it would have made any difference.

Walking in from the bright early afternoon sunshine I found myself in near darkness, an affliction that comes with age. I groped my way down the main aisle, holding Jackie’s hand and listening to her countdown the rows. W, V, U, T….J

Our seats were on the aisle, blessedly accessible to an emergency potty break that might call me before the intermission. We sat, got comfortable in the cushy seats, and relaxed. My vision gradually improved, and I found people seated throughout the auditorium that can hold about 300 playgoers.

The theater filled rapidly, and we began the “I hope that guy doesn’t sit in front of me” silent mantra. Very tall people with bushy hair seemed to be in the majority and we took deep breaths as they passed us by on their way to afflict others.

And then two people stood in the aisle next to us, emulating the Himalayas. I thought, good thing they are in our row and not in front of us. I held my breath as the man looked at his ticket, bent toward the row medallion fastened near the arm of my seat and said, “Nope, not ours. We’re in row I, not J.”

My heart sank as they prepared to take the two seats directly in front of us. Maybe, I thought in desperation, that they were seriously short-waisted with leg lengths approximating those of a giraffe. Maybe they would be gobbled up by the cushy seats and re-appear the size of Wizard of Oz munchkins.

The man took his seat. Much like Mount Everest, he seemed to tower above me with most of his height hidden in the clouds.

I thought to myself, I’ve been through this before. At the Music Festival, the Ojai Playhouse and the Art Center, I have suffered with people who should be permanently assigned back row seats as punishment for their abnormal height. But I can take it, I thought, I’ll just forget about seeing the play, I’ll just sit back and enjoy the dialogue and the lyrics. After all, I had only paid $20 for the ticket. What did I expect anyway, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion?

I should have known better.

The first performer either had no vocal cords or selfishly refused to use them for fear that the strain might limit the length of her blossoming Broadway career.

The first song, Welcome to the Renaissance, was unintelligible. It could have been about a French automobile. I was certain that some of it was written in Hebrew, a language with which I have some familiarity.

And then I realized that the kids were not the problem. It was the acoustics that were robbing me of a chance to enjoy the sounds of the play.

It was hopeless. Even the audience conspired against us. From the racquet that went on, I was sure that Jackie and I were the only two guests who were unrelated to the performers. The rest of the audience were either parents, grandparents, or intimate friends of the kids. Anxious to show their undying love and admiration, these supporters reacted vigorously and without concern for the hearing of those seated around them. At times it seemed that a cheering contest between audience members was underway rivaling the action on the stage.

Mount Everest participated with abandon. Like the performers on the stage, he had surely practiced diligently for this once in a lifetime event. Elongated whoops amplified by a rolled-up program rang out whenever his Susie or Jimmy was on stage. Ear splitting whistles seemed choreographed to match the tempo of the songs. Anxious to see how he was doing, he occasionally glanced to either side to determine the level of damage inflicted on the rest of us.

Not to be outdone by him, the woman directly behind me took up the challenge. Her weapon was laughter. Now I like laughter as much as the other guy, but this Phyllis Diller wannabe took first place for the quantity and rapidity of her laughs. Much like nature that deplores a vacuum, she filled every soundless space with annoying laughter. It mattered not what was happening onstage. It only mattered that she match the zeal of the man in front of me.

I slunk down in my seat and began pouting and quietly humming trying to moderate the din in front of and behind me. Sensing my discomfort, the man next to me, undoubtedly a professional audiophile, turned and said that he couldn’t hear much of play either. He said we were in an acoustic dead zone, one that muted much of the performance. He also said he would confront the mountain man after the performance and remind him of audience etiquette.

The play ended. We acknowledged the actors, walked up the aisle, exited the building and entered a world of soft light and muted sounds.

I felt like cheering.

1 Response to “Something Rotten”


  1. 1 jackielakshmi May 13, 2022 at 4:48 am

    What a wonderful a description of last Sunday- I feel like I went through this traumatic experience all over again!
    It is always nice sitting next to you and running into familiar faces- that was the highlight of the event as well as being the first people to leave the performance when it was over !
    Love you❤️

    Like


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