I should be extolling in this space the marvel that is theater in the great outdoors, the pure joy of drama alfresco, of taking in a great play as dusk settles and the first shiny dots in the sky begin to twinkle and the nightingales sing and the crickets crick or whatever it is that crickets do.
But I can’t. Because when the weather turns hot — and folks, I confess, this is a serious personal failing — I’m an indoor theater guy.
You say: It’s a time-honored tradition dating to antiquity, when Athenians gathered in hillside amphitheaters to ponder the tragedies of Euripides. I say: Give me “Medea,” but make sure the air conditioning is working.
Many a time I’m called upon in my line of work to see a summertime play or musical in the open air, to share the experience with a friend and the mosquitoes. There is nothing quite like attending a production of “A Flea in Her Ear” with an actual flea in your ear. Why words such as “magical” and “enchanting” are so frequently attached to these evenings escapes me. If I wanted to sit in the sweltering heat for hours, watching moths dance maniacally in the glow of artificial lighting while people told a story, I’d go camping.
I can’t count the number of outdoor theater events I’ve been to that had me wishing the concession stand sold Ben-Gay. Someone please tell me what pleasure there is in sitting on a cement bench or a folding chair, its front left leg sinking awkwardly into the soft green earth, as you contemplate the number of resulting knots you’ll later have to have kneaded out of your back? Is there a special virtuousness one is expected to feel — like using your vacation time to re-dig your drainage system — in foregoing the minimal comforts that the average indoor theater space provides?
Let me put it this way: When summer theater is performed under what’s forecast to be a cloudless sky, I inevitably get rained on. Sometimes, meteorological effects do make apt cameo appearances: I once sat through an outdoor performance of “The Tempest” with bolts of lightning zapping nearby mountains, and in Central Park, a revival of “Hair” was interrupted by a rainstorm. When the cast reemerged between cloudbursts, the rendition of “Let the Sunshine In” was received by the drenched audience as a direct message to the heavens.
I’ve been to performances of Molière in tents so sauna-like I’ve left weighing less than when I walked in. (Okay, this actually may be considered a plus.) At Shakespeare’s Globe in London, an open-roofed theater that mounts some marvelous stuff, the attempt to mimic the conditions of Elizabethan theater is so successful that some people who buy “groundling” tickets — entitling you to stand at ground level at the lip of the stage — have fainted before my eyes in the heat. And I don’t even want to get started on the problems of trying to hear actors as their words, lacking any acoustical buffer to bounce their voices off, drift inaudibly up and out into the fathomless universe.
Far be it for me, though, to suffocate the pleasure you might derive from your theatrical moments in the blazing sun. You might even see me out there from time to time — but only because I’m being paid. So go on, line up at the box office with your blankets and your sunblock and your umbrellas and your slickers and your pain pills and . . . by all means, enjoy yourselves. But don’t say you weren’t warned.
Or, if you prefer, here are five worthy-sounding events that will be going on under saner, enclosed conditions:
●“Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The road company of the 2014 Broadway production, now with Euan Morton as the punk rocker of indeterminate gender, winds up its national tour at the Kennedy Center. June 13 to July 2.
●“Wig Out.” The 2008 play by Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”) about drag queens and their beaus, has its Washington premiere at Studio Theatre. July 12 to Aug. 6.
●“An Octoroon.” MacArthur genius Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s enthralling reimagination of a 19th-century “slave play” by Dion Boucicault returns to Woolly Mammoth Theatre with much of the cast intact from its original hit run. July 18 to Aug. 9.
●“The King and I.” Lincoln Center Theater won the Tony Award for best musical revival for this production, now on tour and directed, as it was on Broadway, by Bartlett Sher. July 18 to Aug. 20.
●“A Little Night Music.” Or, Holly Twyford meets Stephen Sondheim. The protean actress ventures into musical theater, trying on for size the poignant role of Desiree Armfeldt in this Signature Theatre revival. Aug. 15 to Oct. 8.
Read more from the Summer Arts Preview: