Who goes to the theater? And why?

Recently, I received an email from a woman in Newtown who said she read my review of The Liar, which played at the Westport Country Playhouse and though I liked it, she did not. She had been working in New York City and loved seeing the off-Broadway and Broadway shows. She no longer works in the city and misses theater. I sent her a list of Connecticut theaters.

As for the Westport Country Playhouse, she enjoyed the theater and the ambiance so much, even though she didn’t like the play, she said she’s going to see the rest of the season. She enjoyed chatting with the people who gathered outside on the sprawling veranda where you could take your drink and sit at small tables for two. She also enjoyed the outdoor courtyard, where people purchased ice cream and sodas, but she did not like the play at all. I suggested that she attend The Second Mrs. Wilson, which is playing at Long Wharf Theatre on the Main Stage. She wrote back that she loved it, loved it, loved it and that I was once again reinstated in her estimation. Now that I know what kind of play she enjoys, I know which ones she will love and/or dislike. As for me I love all theater, especially when it’s done well.

The thing is that the theater experience is a complete experience from parking the car to entering the lobby. It’s about the building, the ambiance, the people and of course the performance. Most people gravitate to the type of performance they enjoy the most.

I asked a number of theatergoers why they go to the theater. Some maintained that they simply wanted to sit back and be entertained. They worked at stressful jobs during the day and had all kinds of family obligations. They just wanted to go to theater and let the actors entertain them. They did not want heavy or intellectual plays that made them work at understanding symbolism or deep meaning. Others wanted plays that made them think. They wanted to be provoked. Still others want to come away from a show having learned something. “If I don’t learn anything from a show, then it was a waste of my time,” said another avid theater-goer.

Last weekend, I attended I Love Lucy – Live on Stage at the Palace Theater in Waterbury. As I approached the theater, I saw groups of people taking photos of the I Love Lucy tractor-trailer out behind the building. They were excited about seeing the show and wanted to capture every bit of it, even the trailer’s logo. What was even more amazing was that when I entered the theater, some people were dressed like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. I couldn’t believe it. These were true fans who came to the theater for this particular celebrity. They also enjoy other types of theater, but this was all about being a fan.

Carol Stanziano of Waterbury had visited consignment shops until she was able to put together a typical Lucy outfit. She wore an adorable red hat on her hair and sported the iconic polka dotted dress. She also flaunted a pocketbook with the “I Love Lucy” heart logo on it. Her friend Caroline Dodge was also decked out as Lucy and hails from Watertown.

“As kids we watched the I Love Lucy shows together,” she said adding that they had to come to see this show. They really got into the spirit of it. No sooner had I snapped their photo when along came Elaine Melchionne of Prospect, a natural redhead Lucy fan, and her brother Fran McKennerney of Waterbury, who sported a typical straw hat to top off his Ricky outfit. Lastly, I sat next to Naugatuck resident Jennifer Corbett who said that when she was in sixth grade, she had to make a presentation and chose to do the Lucy “Vitameatavegamin” commercial. Her mother got her a Lucy costume. She never forgot the experience. All of these people were at the theater for nostalgia, fun, and as devoted fans.

What is so wonderful about all of this is that in Connecticut, you can find just the right theater performance to fit your fancy. Best of all, you may start out liking one type of theater and end up becoming a theater fan of all genres.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]

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