Minding Manners

Dale Hodges plays the title role in the Jeffrey Hatcher play, "Mrs. Mannerly" at Hartford's TheaterWorks (Ryan Kurtz, TheaterWorks / October 11, 2013)

Arrive on time. I remember Dame Edna stopping her Broadway solo show and asking a pair of late arrivals where they were from. New Jersey, they said. "Well, I came here from Australia and I got here on time." Give yourself plenty of time to get to the theater. It is a social occasion, too, so enjoy the pre-show time.

Not-so-smart-smart-phone owners: If the cell phone rings, we'll hate you for it but we might kill you if you don't make an effort to shut it off. Pretending it's someone else's phone never works, especially if it rings again and again. So shut everything off. Everything. That includes the phone, the apps, the chiming watch, the iPad and those little voices you hear in your head. And putting your phone on "vibrate": doesn't count. We hear that, too. Better yet, leave them all in the car.

No texting or tweeting. Save it for the drive home.

Shhhhhh! No talking during the show. Simple, no? If there's something on stage you don't understand, ask your companion — at intermission.

And that goes for coughing: Twitter follower JEB54 writes, "In 1975, when I was a college student in Dallas, Texas, I attended a Dallas Opera production of Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde', with Jon Vickers and Roberta Knie in the title roles. The curtain rises at the beginning of the third act to reveal the wounded Tristan reclining on the stage as an orchestral prelude transpires in the pit. Since the audience felt that nothing was yet happening, one and another opera-goer took the opportunity to indulge a cough. Soon we had a small chorus of coughing, as if it were contagious. Suddenly a voice boomed out from the shadows of the stage. It was Vickers, instructing us to "Shut up with your damn coughing!" Absolute silence prevailed through the rest of the prelude. Somebody, I think one of Dallas's music critics, later dubbed that performance "Dristan und Isolde." If I'm in the house and need to cough, I try to muffle it and place it between lines."

And picture taking: Just remember, you're not invisible and this is the one faux pas that can lead to a heave-ho. Follower @jszkryo tells this story: "This summer I saw a guy in the orchestra of the Met taking pictures of the ballet with an iPad. Hello! We can all see you!"

Don't be slobs. Pick up after yourself if you consumed snacks or beverages. (And while we're on the subject, when did this urgent need to hydrate begin? You're sitting in a theater, not running a marathon. If you must, keep those big gulps to a minimum).

No Barcaloungers here. And no feet on the stage. It's not a private ottoman for those in the front row. It's hallowed ground to the actors and stretching out shows the ultimate of disrespect. Plus if it's "Richard III" you might get those tootsies cut off. Twitter follower @maddiesaysso says she "sat next to a guy [when she went to see the musical] "Scandalous" who had REALLY stinky feet that he hung over the seat in front of him... Shoeless."

No butts, Please: And the late great etiquette maven Letitia Baldrige had this piece of advice from the '90s: When passing people in a row, she says, face toward them, not the stage.

Brief the kids: If you're bringing youngsters, have a talk with them before you leave the house or car, and remind them of what they are about to see, how they are expected to behave. Or else.

Don't multi-task: Stern said when he directed "Loves Labor's Lost" at Penn State he saw a front row audience member watching the play — while grading papers. "I was horrified and I could feel my blood pressure boiling." He cheered when one of the actors went down, grabbed the papers and used it as part of the scene. "It was brilliant — and we didn't give them back to him until after the show."

If you feel queasy, leave. A Twitter follower named "sweetrosen," who is also an actor, told of a "woman [who] loudly vomited the moment I entered [on stage] during the Lincoln Center Library-taped performance of Kafka's 'The Castle.' " No one likes a mess. During a performance of "The Best Man" on Broadway, a patron in the balcony threw up over railing and into the orchestra (so much for premium seating).

It's OK to dress comfortably. I stopped being a tsk-tsker here years ago. Want to dress up to the nines, go right ahead. And you'll look marvelous. But IF you want to wear jeans and sneakers, be my guest, sport. It's all good. Almost. I draw the line with tank tops, shorts and flip-flops — which I saw at one opening night this summer in the Berkshires. That is, unless you have Mr. Manganiello's body, and even then...

Don't compete with the actors for attention: Jeffrey Hatcher shares a story an actor told him during a performance at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida when an elderly man made a scene getting up from his seat by saying loudly, "I am going to have a bowel movement." As he oh-so-slowly hobbled up the aide with his cane, he suddenly stopped, turned around and announced to the crowd, "False alarm" and returned to his seat.

Bathroom penalty: If you must leave your seat during a performance, when you want to return — stop. Stay in the back of the theater until there is a scene change. Better yet, wait until intermission or remain until the end of the show. You disturbed people once. Don't compound the slight.

Stay for the curtain call: Even if you hated the play, show some class and politely applaud — though you don't have to join the now-meaningless standing ovation. But if you're trying to dash for the parking lot while the players are taking their bows, just try getting past me, toots. Manners be damned.

"MRS. MANNERLY'' plays through Nov. 17 at its theater at 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Previews continue; opening night is Friday, Oct. 18. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2;30 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $65. Student Rush tickets are $15. Saturday matinees tickets for seniors are $35. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission. Information: 860-527-7838.

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