Monday, December 17, 2012

One Rotten Sugar Plum at 'Nutcracker'

With a 7-month-old baby and a 16-year-old teenager in our family, the holidays are an interesting spectrum of joy.

We're celebrating all of Max's "first" moments while we're encouraging Gabe to begin appreciating the traditions from a cultured adult perspective. And like all parenting moments, there are a few exasperated sighs mixed in with all of the laughter and smiles.

On Saturday night, we took Gabe to the Toledo Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Stranahan Theater. Dan helped him tie his necktie and advised him on when to button and unbutton his sports coat, and he got more practice at holding open doors for his mother. Gabe agreed to pose with me and a dancer dressed as the titular character with an amazing lack of I'm-too-cool-for-that attitude.

The performance was stunning. Dan especially liked the well-choreographed opening scenes, and Mary Carmen Catoya as the Snow Queen was a marvel. The clever stage trick of "flying" the young angels was a nice touch, and 101.5 morning host Rick Woodell was hysterical as Mother Ginger. The show was a lovely mix of traditional en pointe and innovative gymnastics.

Now, here's the downer. I understand "The Nutcracker" is a magnet for families with young children. It's a fantastic children's story, after all. And with the amount of children in the cast, it's likely that a third of the audience were relatives. I actually enjoyed the occasional exclamation of amazement, a question about why a character was doing something, or even a plaintive request to be boosted for a better view.

What I could not tolerate was the running commentary of the little girl seated behind me. She apparently was familiar with the show and had to announce every scene with precocious authority, as well as complain when things weren't happening fast enough for her. She was sitting with her Nana, who deserves her own scolding for engaging this child in casual conversation throughout the entire performance.

I know the difference between children who have age-appropriate attention spans or even other challenges that mean they don't have the same aptitudes or social skills of typical children, and children who are badly behaved brats. First clue is that the little urchin kept wedging her patent leather-encased foot between the seat and back of my chair, poking me right in my behind even after I twice shoved her foot away with my hand. Second clue is that she asked her grandmother to tell her the time, repeatedly and at a moment Nana was busy, and when she was told she did not say thank you but instead replied, "Well, why did I have to ask you eight times?"

At that point my son's jaw dropped and he exchanged a look with me that pretty much confirmed we both knew he would be mangled if he ever spoke to me like that.

A very young girl next to us played with her stuffed kitty and cuddled into the seat when she got tired. Two lovely girls sitting in front of us politely engaged with us when their dad was telling us about seeing a man propose to a woman out in the lobby. An entire gaggle of children nearby sat in their bow ties and frilly dresses and simply enjoyed the ballet.

People, please teach your children some decorum if you are going to take them to the theater. It's never too early -- or too late. Nana and her rotten sugar plum have their work cut out for them, though.