Friday, November 22, 2013

Sorry, I can't review Lizzie Borden - I couldn't get into my seat!

Yes, you read that right.  When I arrived at my seat at Boston Lyric Opera's production of Lizzie Borden tonight (performed in the atmospheric Park Plaza Castle) there seemed to be someone already sitting in it.  

So I glanced at the usher in confusion - had there been some mistake? But she only wanly gestured toward the graying gentleman who had taken my assigned place, and quickly retreated.

I glared at this usurper - who gave me a funny kind of smile, and scrunched over as far as he could to his right (thus basically crushing himself against his own companion).

May I show you to your seat?
That maneuver exposed about half of a small, straight-backed kitchen chair, much like the one at left (only smaller).  The performance space was filled with them.  On risers.  

In a flash, I realized that this gentleman actually was in his own seat - and that I was about to enter the painful realm of Literal Operatic Metaphor (LOM).

You see there's nothing like opera for really obvious metaphor - but when it turns literal, or should I say physical, it enters some whole new level of stupid obnoxiousness. And clearly designer Andrew Holland (or director Christopher Alden?) had decided to inflict on the Boston Lyric audience something of the dreadful claustrophobia that drove the put-upon heroine of Lizzie Borden to murder her family.

My heart sank; by now it only takes a split second for a really bad design concept to come clear to me in all its horrifying ramifications. But I nevertheless gamely perched my right buttock on the unyielding surface of my seat.  It is on the aisle, I told myself. I can get through this!

If only.  The gentleman next to me was doing his best to compact himself into as small a space as possible, but it was no use - his elbow remained lodged between my liver and right kidney.  I glanced around: the rest of the audience looked just as miserable as I did, that is to say, just as miserable as the designer meant them to be - that is to say, as miserable as poor Lizzie Borden was before she cut loose.  (Only she didn't pay for the privilege!)

At that moment the gentleman next to me shifted slightly, I felt a thrill of pain like the stab of a kidney stone - and I knew I couldn't make it through the opera.  And I've scrunched into some tight seats, I'll tell you. (I saw Angels in America at the Colonial!) So I rose, grabbed the back of my personal instrument of torture, and tried to pull it out a few inches into the aisle.

But it wouldn't budge; it was hooked to its neighbor.  So I adjusted my grip, put my back into it -

And the damn thing splintered into pieces in my hands.

Yes. For a moment I almost laughed - but then I saw red.  And dear Hub Review readers, if at that moment I'd had an axe, I think I would have gladly given Andrew Holland and Christopher Alden forty whacks.  (So their conceptual efforts would have counted as an artistic success!)

But then something else came clear to me - I just couldn't patronize an artistic institution that would do this to its customers. Nor could I pretend that conditions in the Park Plaza Castle were tolerable for the audience. Seriously, no. (And this from someone who was once pulled on stage at the New Rep and forced to wear a coconut bra and do the hula.)

I briefly brandished the shards of my seat - as the ushers cowered in terror.  Then I threw the broken remains of my rack to the floor, and stomped out (almost leaving my favorite scarf behind in the process!).  Of course in the cold night air, as the heat of the moment passed, I had to chuckle at myself.  Oh well - no more press tickets from Boston Lyric Opera, that's for sure. But at least I was free of that fucking chair!  (Gosh, Lizzie must have felt great after carving up her parents.)  And what the hell, I can pay my way to the next opera I want to see there (only from now on only in real theaters with real seats!). Some people claim I've been over-rating Boston Lyric Opera anyhow - and maybe I have. I've certainly been over-rating their concern for audience comfort.


  1. Oh dear, I am going to tomorrow's performance and this does not bode well. The Schubert has not been as comfortable, but I did learn to stay away from their second balcony and stick to the mezzanine or orchestra levels. Only the Boston Opera house and the Wilbur (which I have not been to since it reopened for comedy or music shows) have seating that is tolerable. Looks like the Opera annex program is being run as an endurance contest. As stated, I almost did not get to JFK library in time for "Lighthouse" due to scheduling issues with the Mbta buses. For the record, I did enjoy the "Magic Flute"

  2. Dear Mr. Garvey,

    OMG! We are just mortified the seating at our production made you so uncomfortable that you felt compelled to leave. Please accept our heartfelt apologies.

    As you know, our Opera Annex productions take opera out of the traditional performance hall and into non-conventional venues around town, staging opera right in the community. We wish we could claim that the seating is part of the overall design concept for special effect; but in actuality, it’s part of the challenge of creating a space that meets building, permit and budgetary requirements.

    We wish you would have stayed long enough for us to not only apologize personally for your discomfort, but to do whatever we could to fix your situation. Despite the imperfect chairs, you missed the audience’s enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of a remarkable performance.

    Sunday is almost sold out, but hopefully you’ll come back tonight (Saturday) and give your review a second chance, because there is, quite literally, a seat with your name on it. And if this seat doesn’t work for you, we’ll certainly find one that does.

    With affection,

    Your Friends at Boston Lyric Opera

    PS--you’re still welcome to press tickets!

  3. "Magic Flute" was quite strong, I agree - Andrew Garland in particular was a wonderful Papageno, and the concept there was clever. I'm generally a cheerleader for BLO, in fact. But unless you're that poor lady from "Candide" who only has one buttock, this show is a major challenge.

  4. Thank you, Boston Lyric Opera, for your comment. And I appreciate the issues that Opera Annex faces. Seating in these "found" spaces isn't going to be plush, I understand that - indeed, the seating for "Turn of the Screw" two or three years ago, in the same space, was none too comfortable; but I ignored that and raved over the production anyway. But the "Lizzie Borden" seating presented a new level of difficulty, I'm afraid. I just can't see how anyone could have sat in those hard little chairs and not thought there was a problem. It's too bad I can't make it back to the production - but would the seating for everyone else have changed in the meantime? For ah, there's the rub. And while I'm sure that "Lizzie Borden," just like "Turn of the Screw," "Clemency," and "Lighthouse," is an exciting production, that may not be the only reason you got a standing ovation; frankly, the audience may have been eager to leap from their seats the first chance they got.