The squawk about a squeak


(Jonathan Ernst/FTWP /FTWP)

One afternoon, as I waited for the end of an intermission in one of Washington’s swankiest theaters, my daydreaming was interrupted by an usher.

“Excuse me sir,” she said politely. “But we have to change your seat. Will you come this way?”

Change my seat? I liked my seat! “Why would I have to move?” I asked her.

“Because the gentleman behind you says that your chair is squeaking.”

I hadn’t noticed it until that moment, but yes, as I shifted a bit, I could hear the seat bottom making a minutely perceptible noise. My first thought was that it was not a particularly loud squeak. My second was, why am I, and not he, the one who’s being moved? My third was: Is this what we’ve come to in the communal experience of playgoing? That patrons expect to watch a play in a bubble, the sort in which everyone else must defer to their idea of perfect audience conditions?

For years, I’ve endured people cracking gum and gulping whole lakes of water from pail-size bottles and turning their iPhones on and off to check the score in the third quarter of the latest Redskins debacle. I remember changing my own seat once — and that was because the rhythm of the man’s oxygen tank behind me made it hard to discern the musical’s score.

But really, people, we all have to make concessions in public spaces to the ambient noise of living. Not every distraction is worth an intrusion on someone else’s afternoon out. Despite the complainant’s death stare, I stayed put for the next act, trying to sit so still my knees hurt. Darned if I were going to surrender to another theatergoer’s unreasonable sense of entitlement.

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Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.

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