If you go see The Pride off-Broadway during its limited run (and you should, because the show is good), you’ll notice a slip of paper tucked into your Playbill. On it, you’ll find a politely but pointedly-worded warning.
The first part is a pretty standard request to turn off your cell phone. The last reminds you that herbal cigarettes will be smoked during the show. And boy, are they. But we’ll get to that in a minute. What caught my eye was the text in the center of the page, bolded and underlined lest you attempt to ignore it. It says:
Due to the quiet nature of The Pride, there will be absolutely no re-admittance to the theater during the play.
It goes on to say that if you have to leave your seat for any reason during the show, you won’t be let back to it. Which is basically another way of saying the exact same thing.
The Pride is a quiet play, and an intricate one, too. Set in two time periods—postwar and present-day London—it focuses on the intertwining relationships of three characters, two of them gay. None of the actors are head miked and most of the dialogue happens in the intimacy of living rooms and on park benches. Unfortunately, the show is playing at the Lortell on Christopher Street where, I swear, the stage sits directly on top of the 1 train, because you’ll hear (and feel) it rumble intermittently throughout the show. But that was nothing compared with the cacophony that Ben Whishaw, Hugh Dancy, and Andrea Riseborough had to compete with on the night I saw the show. The only thing rumbling (and wheezing, and shifting, and dramatically sighing) louder than the subway that night was… the audience.
Never in my life have I heard so much coughing during a play.
Yes, the characters do smoke herbals during the show, as that little slip of paper so kindly warned. Packs and packs of them. Were they real cigarettes, I’m sure that all of us would have cancer by now, and I only saw the show three nights ago. And yes, the herbals did irritate my contact lenses so badly that, at one point, I thought I had Pringles stuck to my eyeballs. But oh, the coughing.
Endless coughing. Choruses and choruses of coughing. Harmonized coughing. During scenes. Between scenes. During the nearly silent moments. During the arguments and din. It was gross. It was positively pneumococcal.
I’m not sure whether everyone in New York City is just sick right now (and if you weren’t before you entered the theater…) or if coughing is both virally and psychologically catchy. Maybe, once you hear someone cough, the urge suddenly strikes you, like you hadn’t thought of it before until you felt that old guy’s spittle on the back of your neck. I don’t know. All I know is that by the end of Act I, I wanted to kill all of these people. Or run out at intermission for a bulk-sized bag of Sucrets and a giant bottle of Purell, the latter of which I planned to keep all to myself.
Here are some other people I wanted to kill: The people who, upon hearing the coughing, thought it would be a great idea to discourage the aforementioned coughing by heaving great, annoyed, New York City sighs of judgement and disappointment, while shifting in their seats. That was awesome, too. It sounded like this:
Balding man in enormous sneakers: Hacking, phlegm-filled cough
Woman in square plastic-framed glasses and a long black coat: Sigh, elaborate weight shift including the crossing and uncrossing of legs, understated click of tongue
Oh. My God.
The thing I also don’t understand is this: If you have an uncontrollable, Richter-magnitude cough, why don’t you do take some precautions before popping in to see your favorite pindrop-silent gay drama? You could, for example, purchase your own bag of Sucrets beforehand to save me the trip at intermission. You could see your physician at Westchester County Medical. (Cough medicine with codeine is… amazing. It might help you enjoy The Pride even more.) You could, perhaps, wait to go to the theater until your obviously serious and plainly audible illness is cleared up. You could go see another show, like Hair for example, where you could auction off a car in the right box or light a bonfire on the balcony during the second act, and no one even would notice. The cast would get confused and think it was part of the show. Or even if they knew it wasn’t, they wouldn’t care. They’d think it was great. You’d look up and Will Swenson would be sitting next to you, toasting marshmallows.
At one point during The Pride, I seriously expected the lovely—and prodigiously talented—Ben Whishaw to offer his handkerchief to a guy in the front row. God knows, actors have broken character in the past to tell off rowdy audience members. (Hugh Jackman, anyone? Patti Lupone’s epic mobile-device-related meltdown?) And as the show continued, I started to fantasize about how something like this would play out. I imagined Ben slowly turning to the audience, all squinty-eyed, and saying something like, “I am so sorry to interrupt you, but I am English and an artist. I played Hamlet to glowing notices at The Old Vic. And as such, I would ask that you please remain quiet. I will leave it to you develop your own working definition of ‘quiet’ as it pertains to this show.”
And then the action would resume and everyone would start coughing again.
Leaving the theater, we speculated on why everyone seemed so bronchial. The Mick blamed the age of the audience, hypothesizing that coughs are just a more common thing when you’re 80, and that they tend to get worse when you stay out past eight. (She also noted that this audience didn’t even attempt a standing ovation at the end, probably because their knees couldn’t take it.) I thought it might just be a matter of epiglottal willpower, and a distinct lack of fruity candy.
Whatever the reason, all of that—the coughing and the sighing—somehow didn’t ruin the play for us, which is a testament to its power, and the talent of the actors onstage. Or maybe it’s just a testament to how Hugh Dancy looks in shorts. I would go again. And I really would bring cough drops to hand out. You know, so the audience could spend the entire show slowly… slowly… unwrapping them.