My wife and I play a game with our toddler grandson Jack. We point to our noses, say the word, “Nose, nose?” until he touches his own and then all three of us break into enthusiastic applause with Patricia and me screaming, “Yay! Yay!” with total abandon. Jack likes the attention, we love teaching him and everyone feels good.
When we’re done laughing I say to him, “Just so you know? The bar for crazed praise gets higher as you get older.” (He laughs at that too. Not because he understands what I’m saying, but rather because I’m making a comical face as I proclaim this prognostication.)
It is a pretty low bar to get such praise, but Jack’s audience is highly biased. Love for grandchildren is legendary and accurate; Patricia and I are batty about that kid and find his charms irresistible.
Our warped perception of our grandson explains Jack’s standing ovation, but I am frequently perplexed when attending theatre productions that I think are good, even great, but not worthy of an audience’s highest accolade. Standing ovations are far too often awarded for mediocre or good performances. I choose to save standing ovations for productions that I find superlative.
Imagine theatre patrons sitting in their seats at the end of a very good performance applauding enthusiastically. During the well-earned applause someone stands, followed by someone else. (I always imagine the play The New Moon when this pyrite applause phase begins. One overly enthusiastic patron convinces first one and then succeeding others to rise up and applaud. Rather the opposite of “Ten Stouthearted Men.”) Soon we have a theatre full of people standing and clapping and one middle-aged curmudgeon slapping his hands together loudly, quickly and enthusiastically but whose derriere is glued to his seat. Yep. That’d be me. (My wife will either stand or sit at this point as she sees fit. Sometimes it’s a lone curmudgeon sitting, sometimes a beautiful white-haired goddess sits by my side rather than ascending.)
Awarding a standing ovation for something that shines with less than stellar luminance dims the power of the accolade. Saturday, August eleventh I attended The Book of Mormon at North Carolina’s Durham Performing Arts Center and as the show drew to an end I was poised to rise from my seat and applaud unto the heavens. Yeah, I liked it that much.
I wasn’t sure if I would. I have a sarcasm streak that’s so wide that, like Greek Achilles, I may have been dipped in something at birth. I’m so sarcastic that I frequently find it necessary to say, “I’m usually a smart-ass, but I try really hard not to be a mean smart-ass.” Before attending The Book of Mormon I wasn’t sure if Matt Stone’s, Robert Lopez’s, and Trey Parker’s play would be too mean-spirited for my overly empathic disposition. Parker’s and Stone’s “South Park” driven reputation preceded them, and I find broad-brush-stroke defamation of large groups, whether religious or otherwise, off-putting. I found that the writing team masterfully danced around the need to point out the logical inconsistencies of faith-based reasoning using Latter Day Saints as an example of the thought process in general rather than specifically ridiculing Latter Day Saints. (The closing song of the play gives ample support for this statement.)
Before the play began I said to my wife, “You know what’s ridiculous? The prejudice I have concerning Mormons. Prejudice in their favor. I know there’s good and bad in everyone and every group has good and bad people in it, but if I had to hand a hundred-dollar bill to someone I didn’t know and wanted to get it back at a future date? I’d hand it to a Mormon sight-unseen before I’d hand it to anybody else who’s a complete stranger to me. Crazy, huh?” And the play explicitly states this same theme, that Mormons as a group are a great bunch of people who just happen to believe in a bunch of stuff most of us don’t, and- SURPRISE! – their religion like all religions fails at being logically consistent.
The Book of Mormon wasn’t all laughs though. The specific references to AIDS, violence, infant-rape and other real-world atrocities would bring my smiling face crashing to the ground as my gut erupted in a sob or two. This show packs a punch for those who are listening.
As The Book of Mormon wrapped-up I applauded and cheered, just as I’d done a dozen times during the show. The difference was that as the show concluded I leapt to my feet as I did so. The Book of Mormon earned my standing ovation and I was happy to award the cast their well-earned highest theatre audience accolade.