A Good Show is Hard to Sleep Through by
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First, I eliminate from the extraordinarily bad category the performances I’ve slept through.  Snoozing suggests a bad performance, but also implicates a bad audience member, one who is inattentive, disrespectful, hermetically sealed and aloof, prone to lax and oafish behavior, who comes to a show overstuffed, besotted and primed for the cave of lost wokeness no matter what sunburst of creativity might radiate from the stage.  The dimming lights cue the snooze.  How can I fairly judge badness if I slept through it?

"And what good news:  a new Tom Stoppard play, “Leopoldstadt”, is opening at Broadway’s Longacre Theater this fall..."

Which leaves me with not many uneliminated entrants.

To get granular, on my most recent pre-COVID grand tour of Broadway and nearby NYC cultural palaces, in November 2019, I slept through half of “Hamilton” (Hamilton got shot? Big surprise); a third of David Byrne’s “American Utopia” (a hot ticket at the time, with an endless reprise of  “…the days go by, water flowing underground…”, but not flowing fast enough for me); a slim fraction, barely a snore, of a matinee of “The Sound Inside” starring Mary-Louise Parker (whom the critics and I adore, although I would call the play “thin” and “not good enough for her…”; close to the entirety of “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera (my first time in those decorous premises, with English translation of Puccini scrolling above the proscenium which was unreadable with my eyes closed; no encores scheduled); and at least 2 of the 5 acts of an off-Broadway matinee of “Macbeth” (I hung in until King Duncan met his maker, and rebounded in time to see Macbeth meet his).

May I digress?  I’ve caught quite a few “Macbeths” over the years, in recent times (like the above matinee) as chaperone to the enthusiasms of youths expecting merry olde Scotland and unfamiliar with the blood-dripping crime and punishment of the plot, ending with Macbeth fighting bravely (may a ruthless murderer be deemed brave?) until he is beheaded by the avenging Macduff (avenging the murder of King Duncan, and of his own wife and son), and natural order is restored to the kingdom.  There is satisfaction when the tyrant is brought down, but let us not forget the grievous wounds suffered at the tyrant’s hands while he still wielded his sword.  Until the tyrant is felled, and decapitated for good measure, there is always the fear that he will miraculously escape justice (an escape tunnel out of the bunker, a submarine ride to Argentina, etc.).

My first “Macbeth”, staged at a community theater near my school, was an eye-opener.  I attended with my class (I am unable to pin down my grade level; I have already exhausted my exhumation skills with the above restored array of my November 2019 theater attendance portfolio).  I had read the play in my English curriculum, and was prepared for a big body count, but I was not prepared for the lust and bold sexual allurement of Lady Macbeth as she worked to harden and embolden her man to satisfy her aching for him to perform his dirty deed.

Oh, boy.

In our class discussion the next day, some of the boys (it was an all boys’ prep school) felt that she had gone too far, corrupting the power grab of her character with the lubricious power of sex, with which she led her hooked and slavish mate by the nose, which some of the boys had not yet read the book about.

My parents asked me, ‘How was the play?”

“Not bad,” I replied.

What was the prompt again?

With my few remaining words I am pleased to throw a bouquet to all plays by Tom Stoppard, all eye-openers (stay-awakers) in their various witty, intoxicating and challenging ways.   I’d call them, collectively, my best-evers.  And what good news:  a new Tom Stoppard play, “Leopoldstadt”, is opening at Broadway’s Longacre Theater this fall.  I plan to attend, and to stay awake.

Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Hope you didn’t snooze thru too many good ones Jon! In recent years we’ve been opting for light lunches, less wine, and then matinees – less conducive to falling asleep!

    And glad you mentioned Tom Stoppard, all his plays I’ve seen were wonderfully conceived, written and performed, am also looking forward to his new one this fall!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Good to hear an honest report of sleeping through performances–though I note you seem to keep going back for more. With hope I suppose, and sometimes well-met. I enjoyed your recounting of the dangerously salacious Macbeth–theatre can take you by surprise if you are expecting something old and staid. May you have a good quotient of performances that keep you awake ahead.

    • I was an underexposed G Rated kid, and Lady Macbeth introduced me to a whole new world of adult interaction and manipulation. Sadly, Macbeth was aroused to do her lethal bidding, but when the deed was done and he was most in need of succor, she checked out into madness.
      “I ruined myself for you my Lady, and now I burn alone…”

  3. John Shutkin says:

    A delightfully funny romp through plays, Jon, and I particularly enjoyed your lustful first Lady Macbeth. It was obviously good for you.

    And while I, too, love (almost) all of Stoppard’s, I am amazed at the shows that you have, literally, found to be a snore — most notably, of course, “Hamilton.” That said, “de gustibus non disputandum,” as we were non-judgmentally taught. But perhaps a touch of narcolepsy?

    • Yes, I read that you, your brother and almost the whole world loved Hamilton. I am a dissenting outlier on this one. Perhaps because the hype was so intense, that I had unfairly raised expectations. Perhaps because I seem to have limited tolerance for the musical genre (although a few I have loved over the years, like Sondheim’s Company, the Secret Garden (which I saw w my daughter and it hit the spot), Hair (the original, which was transformative), the recent sad musical with Bob Dylan’s songbook, and others). As you
      Say, one can’t account for taste, or sleeping habits.

  4. Suzy says:

    Jon, I join you in finding Hamilton ho-hum. I watched the first half on TV, and when the intermission came, I turned it off. About five days later I decided to watch the second half, and it was better, but still not worth all the fuss, in my mind. I might have fallen asleep at the theatre too. (By the way, see my story about Bonnie Raitt, now pushed off to the second page by Charles’ story, where I describe falling asleep to Bruce Springsteen’s peformance.)

    Love, love, love your discussion of Macbeth. Gives me a whole new perspective on the play, how it looks to a bunch of prep school boys.

    Also agree about Tom Stoppard. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern is one of my favorite plays ever!

    • Yes, I’m running against the flow on Hamilton, but it was hyped as the best thing since electricity, which it wasn’t I said to myself as my eyelids slowly drooped. As to the infamous Thane of Cawdor, that was pretty electric back in the day of Perry Como and Big Brother Bob Emery, or 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Ed Sullivan and summer stock of South Pacific, although there is a bit of a memory smash up as to who got to the intersection first. As I said, some of the boys had not read the book yet (my school taught a course called Naïveté 101 (and let’s keep it that way). There are many rungs on the naïveté curriculum.. And finally, I already have my Stoppard tix (I hear the show is like Retrospect: a nuanced look back, and a non-snoozer).

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    I must say that I find most live theater to be intoxicating, so couldn’t imagine falling asleep, but my husband HATED “August, Osage County” (3 hours long and we were seated SO far away that the faces were tiny specs) with a passion. On the other hand, I regularly drift off during TV and movies these days, so who knows what I’d do at a live play (haven’t been to one in so long).

    Love your account of MacBeth (I watched the Coen Brothers recent film version – very dark). When my son was in 9th grade, he had a wonderful English teacher at Newton North (before he transferred to a very small private school), who loved and promoted poetry and spoken words. In 9th he taught Romeo & Juliet, but MacB to his 11th graders. I told him that I was a trained actress and would be happy to come in and read a scene for his older class. He gladly took me up on the offer and had me read a scene with one of his students. I’m afraid I scared that poor kid half to death, but it was memorable! She is a scary character.

    I agree that Tom Stoppard’s plays are usually insightful and interesting. You have to really listen and they give you a lot to think about after the show, which is the mark of good writing, IMHO.

    • I find most alcohol intoxicating, and some theater sleep provoking, and sometimes the other way around.
      I note that I have been on this retro gig long enough to recall your prior recitation of your acclaimed performance as Lady Macbeth, and I would welcome more details as to how you approached her character and whether there are reported unhealed memories among those lucky enough to attend.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I could really relate to your sleepiness in (for me, non-musical) performances. It has gotten to the point where I rate them one-eyeball for a brief nap and two-eyeballs for a total snooze. But Macbeth (any performance) and Hamilton — those kept me wide awake.

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