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    I've been a bit busy this week, so I'm just catching up on some of the latest theatre news which, of course, involves reading the New York Times website. (Though this may change soon.) And I caught this ArtsBeat blog entry from no less than Ben Brantley, arguing in favor of compassion toward what he refers to as "theatre phone criminals," or those whose cell phones ring during shows they're attending. Someone he took to see a show was the person whose phone rang, and so he felt compelled to rationalize the behavior of his companion (whom he refers to as A). He does so thusly:

    You see, A does not as a general rule carry a phone. But she had left two sons at home, one in the midst of last-minute college applications and the other only 11, and felt she should be reachable. . . . My first instinct was to glare at her, but when I saw her ashen face as she riffled through her purse, I melted. She couldn't find the phone to shut it off, and though it finally ceased on its own, this was not before she had been hissed and condemned by those around her. She was still shaking at intermission, and bowed her head in shame and fear as we moved toward the lobby, bringing to mind those photographs of shorn French women accused of collaborating with the Nazis.

    I feel confident that A has learned from this experience, and that when she goes to the theater again, she will leave her phone behind. But in the meantime, while I still hate the sins committed by TPCs, I am less quick to condemn the sinners. Having previously seen TPCs from the point of view of the unforgiving judge, I am now willing to hear about what it feels like to be on the other side of the law.

    Note to Mr. Brantley (whom, despite being a colleague, I know only casually at best): Regardless of whether or not the infraction was perpetrated by your friend, it is still disruptive, it is still terrible, and it still should not have happened. She does not earn my sympathy, and if someone I took to a show did what she did, that person would not earn it either. Brantley writes that "she felt she should be reachable," and that "she couldn't find the phone to shut it off." There are two problems with this.

    1. If you need to be reachable for any reason—whether it's for work, family, or something else—then you should not go to theatre, because there is clearly something far more important that you could or should be doing with your time. The easy way around this is to prioritize your obligations, to be where you need to be when you need to be there. If A had not gone to the show, there would not have been a problem. (Of course, if she had turned off her cell phone before the show started, that would have solved the problem as well, since no one who's going to see a show with the chief theatre critic for the New York Times can believably cite ignorance as a reason for his or her phone going off.)

    2. A knew she needed to be reachable, which suggests she knew her phone was on. If so, why was her phone buried in her bag? If she knew that her sons, whom she obviously trusted enough to leave home alone for the evening, would need to call her while she was at a play, why didn't she have the phone in an easy-to-access location where she'd be able to answer the call (which was obviously far more important to her than the show) in the first place?

    No audience member, under any circumstances, has any good reason for bringing a powered-on cellphone into a theater when he or she is seeing a play. Period. I don't care if you're the best cardiologist in the country, the theatregoing companion of the chief theatre critic of The New York Times, or the president of the United States. If you go to a show, turn your phone off. If you can't, for any reason, stay home. There should be only two choices here. It's not that hard. Allowing for any wiggle room in between, regardless of whether you're Matthew Murray or Ben Brantley or anyone else, is to contribute to the disintegration of an orderly theatregoing experience. Even if, as Brantley states, A learned from her experience, she still disrupted the show. And allowing every theatregoer one mistake is inviting 1,000 cell phones going off every single night in every single Broadway show. Sure, those people may learn their lessons for next time, but it doesn't fix their self-centered, inconsiderate behavior this time.

    And, besides: Do you really want to risk getting on Patti LuPone's bad side?

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
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