Why is it that when you take 500 otherwise perfectly healthy human beings and put them within the confines of a theater, that suddenly half the room develops some sort of respiratory disorder that causes them to cough incessantly?
You know what I’m talking about: you sit down in a theater, read through your program, and all seems well . . . until the lights go out, and suddenly, the Sickness Symphony begins. The coughing fits start first, like an overture played on trombones. Then someone sneezes, near the back, four or five times — each one a stifled sneeze (more like a “guh-TEW!”) that makes it all the louder. A hard candy is unwrapped slowly somewhere, the crinkle of the wrapper crackling like a fire. And the quieter the action on stage, the more people begin coughing, as if the silence in the theater is a blank canvas that simply must be painted on.
On Saturday night, Sainted Wife Barb and I attended a performance of Antony and Cleopatra at the new Sidney Harman Hall in DC — a theater I’m already disenchanted with because of acoustical problems — and Cleopatra’s “salad days” speech sounded something like this:
My salad days,
When *KAFF! ACK!*een in judgment: cold in b*snuf*od,
To say as I said then! But, *SCHNORT!* way;
Get me ink and paper: *COFF! COFF!*
He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I’ll unpeople *ker-CHEEWW!*gypt.
For this and various reasons, we did the virtually unthinkable: we left at the intermission. We went home and watched The Muppet Show on DVD instead.
And we didn’t cough once.
Footnote: Apparently, I’m not the only one annoyed by this phenomenon. Read Why Coughing Brought Down The Curtain on Our NSO Years in The Washington Post.