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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

THEATER

Soothing the savage breast (Or: Quieting a cranky audience member)

On the stage in front of us, a Moscow theater company was performing Tolstoy. It was opening night at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, and Mikhail Baryshnikov was there in the audience, house left at the end of my row, to see Theatre-Atelier Piotr Fomenko’s “Family Happiness.” Also in the audience, directly behind me on the aisle, was a man about 50 years too old to be behaving the way he was: like a small child in the backseat of a car, ferociously guarding his territory from a sibling who insists on encroaching. He did not, at any point, actually whine, “Mom, he’s touching me!” But that was the effect as the American loudly, repeatedly lectured the quiet Russian man next to him not to let his coat touch him, not to sit with his knees apart, not to move whatsoever because he. Could. Feel. Every. Single. Vibration!

Granted, the theater has upholstered bench seats, sans armrests, and each holds two people. They had the misfortune to be sharing one, and their misfortune spread to the people around them as the cranky man’s admonitions escalated from whispers to hisses to what felt, mid-performance, like a not particularly indoor voice. I wondered if the actors could hear him.

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