Shakespeare…Oh, Baby!

I’d traveled to St. Louis to watch a production of Shakespeare. Actually, I was already in St. Louis and someone had given me a ticket. Besides, the show featured a famous actor who I’d admired and whose performance I’ll never forget and whose name I’ve now forgotten.

I should stop right there. The show was free so I had no grounds to complain . . . but. . .

A young mother sat right beside me with her baby. I’m a bachelor and therefore have no experience on judging the age of children, but I’d guess the little girl was about 20 pounds old.  The play was Macbeth, the most tragic of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and I remember being amazed that a babe-in-arms would have an interest in Shakespeare, much less murder, patricide, and spousal abuse.

The play began and immediately the baby began to squall. This was when I discovered that the child was a drama critic. When most folks don’t like a show they quietly whisper their displeasure to the person sitting beside them, but this young reviewer was screaming her disapproval at the top of her Gerber-filled lungs.  The paying patrons sitting around us turned to stare but the mother saw nothing wrong with 400 years of literary excellence and 5 weeks of rehearsal by paid professionals being drowned out by a baby with a grouchy disposition.

I turned to the child and asked if it was the script or the acting that most disturbed her. She looked at me and screamed. What an astute critic! It was the acting! The child, not yet old enough to walk was objecting to the theatrics. By now the audience members surrounding us were staring death daggers in our direction and several actually got up to find other seats. How rude of them! This insightful young mother was exposing her infant to the highest rungs of our Western Civilization and my fellow audience members objected.

Again, I asked the child, “Do you think they’re overplaying their parts or is the pacing too slow for your tastes?” This caused the little tot to change the pitch of her crying as she started emitting short little blasts of “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” much like the sound of a smoke alarm. By now the ushers had begun to discretely ease their way down the aisles in our direction. This is delightful, I thought! The red-coated attendants were obviously great fans of Shakespeare and they too wanted to hear what this young patron of the arts had to say about what’s-his-name playing the Scottish king.

It was somewhere in the second scene when the wounded Captain arrives to tell of Macbeth’s victory that my little critics fist pounding began. I asked the child if she objected to the costuming or the scenery. She pounded more furiously upon her hapless mother’s chest. Aha, I thought…it’s the lighting. “Too garish, you think?” I asked her. She pounded and screamed some more. By now even the actors onstage were throwing furtive glances in our direction. This often happens to performers when they find out there’s a famous critic in the audience. The seats were now empty for two rows in each direction. I couldn’t understand. This child was giving a perceptive critique of Shakespeare’s most profound tragedy but the audience was so selfish that they actually wanted to hear the play. There’s simply no accounting for the taste and manners of some people.

By the time we’d reached the end of the first act the child had pretty much screamed herself out and had contented herself to a series of very loud “Ooooo’s….” and “Aaaaaa’s…” Perhaps she had become more pleased with the production once it got over its initial jitters. But when Macbeth got to his famous, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly,” the baby let out a screech straight from the Exorcist and some audience members actually jumped in their seats. The fellow playing Macbeth was momentarily thrown of his pace then continued haltingly to the end of the act.

When the lights came up a man who looked like he might have been the manager of the theatre approached the young mother. I needed to use the restroom so I left for a bit, but I can remember thinking that the serious-faced man was probably coming down to thank the young mother for bringing her baby to this production. That was awfully nice of him.

I was disappointed upon my return to see that both the babe and her mother were missing. No doubt the actors heard that they were being reviewed by a professional that night and they’d asked to meet the child backstage. The company was performing Hamlet on the following evening so I wish I could have stayed and attended with my young friend. It’s such fun watching plays with kids.

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