The River, currently playing on Broadway and starring Hugh Jackman, is a hushed, intimate drama…and audience members have been acting like pigs. Masses of them are clearly there to see the hunky action star, not savor the ambiguities and delicate silences in Jez Butterworth’s unnerving mediation on nature, love and relationships. So thunderstruck are they to be in a theater with the godlike Jackman, they forget to turn off their phones. Or worse, they snap pictures. At the press night I attended, some woman lacking a filter filled in the final, quiet moments of the play with an audible, “Holy shit!” Nice way to ruin a final tableau.
How bad has it gotten? There’s a note inserted in the program, begging people to turn their damn phones off, signed by the actors. Now understudy Kerry Warren also takes the stage and reminds the audience to silence its frigging devices. “Before we had the onstage announcement, despite the note from the actors, we had constant interruptions from phones, texts and flashing lights,” producer Sonia Friedman explains. She says the extra live request “seems to be working, as we haven’t had a problem since Kerry started doing this preshow announcement.”
I’m not so sure. The night I saw it, there was one or two Siri bleeps, not to mention loud shushing and the aforementioned holy-shit lady. It’s embarassing, making New York theatergoers look like vulgar rubes. So here are things to keep in mind if you attend The River.
Applaud Hugh's entrance. This is a chamber drama with three actors and a whole lot of pauses, not goddamn Boy from Oz II. Restrain your starfucker reflex and try to imagine Hugh is a normal human being.
Clap after every scene. Maybe you think the rule for theatergoing is to slap your nose-pickers together after each song (for a musical) or scene (for a play). Just sit quietly and take it in; you can applaud at the end to your little heart’s content.
Ask your companion, "What’s going on?" Work it out later, dirtbag. Sometimes art resists comprehension, at least on a conscious level. Some of you look like you started going to theater lit by candles; you should have learned that by now.
Utter a forehead-smacking remark, as if you "got it." This is not a call-and-response type of hoedown, sweetie. I don’t care how into it you are. STFU. Also, there’s nothing to get.
Scream "I love you, Hugh! But in a totally nonsexual, not-at-all-weird way, and we can hang out any time and have a beer and talk about whatever you want, y'know?!?" Okay, that one’s on me. I apologize for that.