Barbarians At The Cabaret Gates

The all-time highlight of the night was when an older man began belting out a "Willkommen" to make anyone proud. Problem was, he wasn't on stage, but was sitting in the upper mezzanine -- part of the audience.

Theater Etiquette 101 hit a new low at last night's entertaining performance of Cabaret at the Hobby Center. The kindest way of explaining it would be that those in attendance may have gotten too caught up in the rowdy club atmosphere of the decadent Berlin nightclub scene in the `30s.

Another view would be that people who have paid their money and don't know any better now  do anything they damn well please in public, thank you very much. Hobby Center might as well move in the Barcaloungers and sixpacks. Oh, and make provision for frequent bathroom breaks because geez, a lot of these people just can't make it past the hour mark without taking a whizz.

Otherwise, how to explain why so many folks:

-- strolled in late and then clambered over and through already-seated ticket-buyers trying to catch the classic opening numbers.

-- couldn't seem to shut up. They waited all day to talk to each other? At the theater? During a show they paid a lot of money for?

-- ignored all pleas to shut off cell phones. And texting. By the way, that big cell phone screen shows up really well in a darkened theater. One theatergoer couldn't seem to recognize the ring of his own cell phone, otherwise why did it go on so long before he shut it off?  

-- felt perfectly entitled to take flash photographs. And in the nosebleed section that got them what -- a blurry reddish picture? (Good thing Patti Lupone wasn't performing.) Or they took photos of each other "at the theatre."

Lauren Lovell, spokeswoman for Theatre Under the Stars that brought this tour of Cabaret to Houston, says while they want people to enjoy themselves, they also want a basic level of civility to exist.

"These actors are really putting on their all out there," she says. "They deserve our respect."

TUTS gets complaints if they seat people late and if they don't, Lovell says. But if latecomers pile up in the back, TUTS can't just leave them standing there, she says. And if someone goes to the trouble of complaining about a lighted cell phone, what causes more disturbance: the cell phone itself, or the usher with the flashlight going in during a performance to get someone to shut down the phone? 

Well, the actors probably didn't see much of what was going on in the upper mezz, but other theatergoers did. And Hair Balls heard later that one reason for so many latecomers might have been a result of some parking misdirection (survival tip: park early at Hobby) and that parking valets were hogging the elevators.

Be that as it may, it's hard to understand the late-arriving couple who, against the rules, sneaked in a bottle of water after intermission and spent the last part of the show, trading gulps back and forth.

It was a show of a whole nother sort. And one that most of us could do without.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing