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Was the theater better in the past, or is it just us?

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Did we really enjoy the theater more years ago? Or are we suffering from rose-colored memories?

C’mon! If we’re suffering from anything it’s poorer vision, diminished hearing and an increasingly unstable balance.

Also, the theater costs so much more now. This is really a problem when you’re married to a man who thinks of an orchestra seat as somewhere between the trombone and the drums, and who automatically heads for the staircase when he comes through the lobby.

But more and more I was finding the balcony a dangerous place to maneuver. With no banisters or guard rails, I could only clutch the shoulders of those already seated as I made my way precariously to my seat. And I finally called it quits with balcony seats when I nearly toppled down to Row B from the upper level.

“That’s it!” I exclaimed to my husband, as people lifted me from the steps and helped me into my seat. “Or would you rather spend more for a hospital stay than for orchestra seats?”

I had hit him where it hurt, in his wallet. Which finally got us into the orchestra seats I was sure would make our evenings so much more enjoyable.

I shouldn’t have counted on it! At least not for any play that takes place in a stark nuclear physics lab where the dialogue about molecules had my eyes glazing over.

But I wasn’t allowed to sleep in these more expensive seats.

“Why aren’t you watching?” my husband suddenly hissed, as he poked me back into consciousness.

As if I knew what I was watching. Or how to admit this to someone who actually liked this enigma and might ask what I thought of it. Could I get away with “Really provocative!” and then quickly change the subject?

But I had other problems that weren’t helped by sitting up close. Like when the setting of a play was in Dublin, and the characters started shouting at one another in a brogue that defied understanding. Which became even worse when the people in the row behind us began to laugh. Were they pretending to understand some devious black humor? Or were they related to the playwright?

Headphones don’t help. Especially the unpadded ones I’m sure are doing irreversible damage to my ears, besides amplifying every cough in the theater.

So sometimes the only thing I find myself concentrating on is how difficult it will be to get to the ladies room during intermission from our mid-row seats, which we got to after struggling over at least eight pairs of immovable knees. Sure enough, the curtain goes down on Act One and our neighbors on either side simply stand up and talk to each other in place.

If I say “excuse me” politely will it get me to the ladies room and back again before Act Two begins? Probably not.

But even when we’re finally out of the theater, we’re not out of the woods. Which is when my husband proclaims “Next time we’ll take the subway!” as we wait for our car in a garage favored by theater-goers from blocks around, all of whom have gotten there before us.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like the theater. In fact, if you hear of something good coming up, let me know, will ya? Especially if it has a Greek chorus that explains what’s going on!

Muriel Lilker is a free-lance writer of essays and light verse.

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