Spotted a new book called Don't You Just Hate That: 738 Annoying Things. Author Scott Cohen has compiled a long list including many that will make your head nod, such as #112: "When your car gently taps the back of someone else's and the other driver makes a big production out of checking for damages."

It started me thinking on what annoys me in the theater. I'll admit that I didn't come up with 738, but I wouldn't be surprised if it took me less time to come up with my first 20 than it did for Cohen to come up with his first score of sore points. See if you and I agree on these:

  1. When a character in a show doesn't just say he's been in love for seven years, but seven years, three months, and 28 days. Nobody keeps track like that.
  2. When a character answers a question with "Yes!" and then realizes that this answer that will get him in trouble, so he immediately says "No!" but then thinks of an explanation that might hold water and says, "I mean, yes!" -- and the person listening has NO IDEA that the speaker is lying.
  3. Similary, when a character is asked a question, and he stutters and stalls -- just so the audience will know he's lying. If we can tell the person's lying, why can't the other character?
  4. Similarly, when a character says he doesn't remember something, and then says, "No, I remember now" because he's thought of a good lie -- and the person listening doesn't doubt him.
  5. When a character sneaks into a room and overhears an important piece of information because, if he didn't, the plot wouldn't be able to proceed.
  6. Another tired plot device to help a story continue: When a character wants to give out a piece of information but is constantly interrupted and never winds up saying what he had to say. Let's face it: If someone needs to state an important fact in real life, he finds a way of saying it, and no one's interruption will keep him from doing so.
  7. When a character keeps forgetting another character's name, no matter how many times he's heard it, so that the audience will know that the first character just doesn't find the other one important. (That's the weakest element of Chicago: Billy Flynn's forgetting Amos Hart's name and constantly calling him Andy. Yes, he does get it right by the show's end, but Billy is too smart to have forgotten the name as many times as Fosse and Ebb made him forget it.)
  8. When a character puts on a pair of glasses to disguise himself and no one who's known him forever recognizes him. Now, think about this. Picture anyone you work with day after day who does not wear glasses. Today he shows up wearing them. Would you be confused and say, "Oh! Who are you?" No. What you'd say is, "Oh! You got glasses!"
  9. When a character falls to the floor and dies, and the director has him lie face-up. The problem with this is that the poor "dead" soul is seen to be still breathing -- especially because many of the times when this happens on-stage, it's after a big scuffle, so the "dead" person is out of breath from struggling with someone. What would it take for a director to have the "corpse" lie face down with his head facing away from the audience? That might not entirely solve the problem but it would help to make the person look "more dead."
  10. When a character tells a group of people something that he thinks is funny, and then he laughs and laughs and laughs -- and when he finally notices that no one's laughing with him, he abruptly stops, clears his throat, and calmly begins speaking again in order to pretend that he never found what he said funny in the first place.
  11. When one character exits to go into another room, closes the door, and the people left on stage loudly talk about him. In real life, of course, they'd lower their voices so that he wouldn't be able to hear them. (In a play, the person off stage never does hear what's said behind a measly door, does he?)
  12. When a group of young women playing chorus girls doing a nightclub number sound stupid by using screechy, scratchy voices and accents that supposedly reek of Long Island.
  13. When rock stars who don't know The Man Who Came to Dinner from The Girl Who Came to Supper give out Tony Awards. Nuff said.
  14. When the set of a play about a great thinker has a bookshelf on which there are several Reader's Digest Condensed Books. This happens constantly in community theater, because directors ask everyone working on the show to bring in books from home and everyone's all too willing to get rid of those volumes that their parents bought. But trust me: an academic does not own a single Reader's Digest Condensed Book.
  15. Another community theater bugaboo: When an actor who plays an angel has his halo held up by a stiff wire at the back. Better to have no halo at all and rely on the wings to tell us an angel's on the premises.
  16. When a critic says that a musical that had once been lavishly produced on Broadway is now automatically "better without the trappings" in a smaller production. Why must good scenery be called "trappings"? Its fun to see a nice ornate set on stage. There's only a problem when the set is all that the show offers.
  17. When a regional or subscription theater announces its season and, after you've sent in your money because you so want to see those particular shows, the theater changes its slate to shows that you don't want to see.
  18. When, in a movie musical (say, Bells Are Ringing), a song ("Just in Time") that has been sung by a character (Jeffrey Moss) later shows up as a tune that's played by a band (in a nightclub, where Jeff is getting drunk after Ella has left him). No! This is something the characters shared, not a pop song.
  19. When, in a movie musical, a man is sitting at the piano playing and singing to a woman; then he suddenly gets up to sing the song without playing, yet the piano keeps going; and then, inevitably, an orchestra joins in.
  20. When, in a movie musical, after a group of people have finished a musical number and they freeze, they all break up laughing as if to say, "Weren't we silly to do that?" There's nothing silly about singing or dancing. In fact, the world would be a better place if more people engaged in these wonderful activities.

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    [To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]