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Aisle Seat: Broadway’s Mask Conundrum

By Naomi Serviss / New York City



Broadway is sticking to its guns mask-wise.


Sort of.

For now.


At least until May 31st, when the current mandate expires.


Clear yet?


To muddle matters more, proof of vaccination will no longer be needed after May 1st. Remember all the trouble it took to get those cards?


Seems unfair they’ll soon be a faint memory.


Yet, 2022 has been nothing if not unpredictable. Is this the pandemic’s tail end? Or is the virus endemic and we have herd immunity?


Maybe it’s herd stupidity.


These unsettling updates may affect your live theater-going decisions. Diehards (like me)

are boosted and good to go. Since attending Broadway shows is my stock-in-trade, I’ve been acclimating to the fates’ whims


(as long as I have final say).


Hence, unvaccinated folk might slouch past (or squeeze next to) you into their expensive seats, with only a mask required through Memorial Day!


Who’s to say what summer may bring?


So it goes.


Existential crisis paralysis for some. High anxiety for others.


After a spirited inner dialogue, I concluded that mask-donning is common-sensical.

For me.


Others will sort out their own druthers. As long as they spray away from me,


I’ll keep attending live theater.


Since my second booster, I’ve been feeling pretty, pretty good. Not even a reaction other than the expected next-day sore left arm.


It wasn’t my pitching arm, so all’s well that ends well.


Common sense dictates that immunocompromised folk stay far from the madding midtown theater crowd.


Regardless, I shall be masked when sitting cheek by jowl with two armrest hogs on both sides, a hair’s breadth away.


Recently opened in no particular order:


Mr. Saturday Night, Billy Crystal performs Borscht Belt schtick, replete with soft-shoeing and harmonizing. Crystal’s a born performer playing a born, but not reformed, entertainer. His character excels at geriatric crowd schmoozing. Not as successful as a parent.


Crystal fans will regret missing this one.



Funny Girl critics were kind to the miscast lead, who didn’t captivate or impress, and whose voice was found lacking, especially with Barbra’s shadow looming large. Reviewers were sour on the production and disappointed such a powerful story was reduced to sentimentalism.


How I Learned to Drive, the harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Paula Vogel. Starring Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse, about incest. A tough subject, but portrayed masterfully by the featured actors and ensemble.


The Minutes, another gripping Tracy Letts tale, with the author playing a key role in this savagely twisted play. Austin Pendleton steals the show.


Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s latest brainstorm, is brilliant. Better to go in fresh, without bias. This is a tough nugget you’ll savor long after the curtain.



Expect droves and loads (as in bus) of out-of-towners enthusiastically selfie-snapping and clogging sidewalks.


The tourists can’t quit Manhattan. Nor should they. They should be encouraged.


Visitor numbers are soaring since relaxed Covid regulations replaced strict mandates throughout New York State. That’s terrific news to the city’s PR bureau, which has been sweating out the past two woebegone years.


Visitors jam up Times Square looking for memorable moments, not to merely enjoy in the here and now, but to stage for posterity.


Instead, they’re faced with the Naked Cowboy (he is fit) and a dubious off-the-rack Elmo scaring

the kids.


There’s a sense of pre-Covid days, especially when trying to navigate around the clueless and ignorant of New York flow.


Sidewalk etiquette means brisk walkers should pass on the left without visible signs of annoyance or eye rolls.


And do not stop midstep to text. That’s how people go flying willy-nilly and land in Bellevue Hospital.


And not in a crowd-pleasing, Peter Pan way.


Savvy theater fans are familiar with TKTS, where day-of, half-price theater tickets are sold.


The pickings can be sweetly tempting.


Some big scale musicals (you may be surprised to see posted) and should-be-seen straight plays are frequently available. It’s a given that earning Broadway bragging rights is the real reason to come here.


If you have theater tickets pre-Memorial Day, you will note uniformed ushers hoisting admonishing placards that read:


MASK ON AT ALL TIMES


There will be silver-haired gents committing offense by exposing their noses at seatmate’s

expense.


The author, with mask, at a recent performance of Hangmen

Still, nothing compares to ants-in-your-pants anticipation in a hushed, darkened theater, hundreds of strangers also waiting to be transported.


Hopefully, I won’t be the only one masked.


 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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