A Steady Ring

Who's in your Fave Five?

Who's in your Fave Five?

You'd think that Americans have owned cell-phones long enough at this point to know how to use them in a way that is appropriate and considerate. Yet even a visit to the Great White Way—where tickets can cost a heck of a lot more than a BlackBerry—is apparently not enough to convince some people to power down their phones.

Enjoying a highly acclaimed limited-engagement on Broadway right now are the film actors Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. To call their roles in the show A Steady Rain intense would be an understatement. Playing two Chicago cops who are struggling over a botched decision to return a young boy to a man who turns out to have been a cannibalistic serial killer, the two leading men deliver a series of highly charged monologues. Their performances have kept audiences hanging on every word and even helped shatter a box-office record, with the show recording the highest-ever weekly ticket sales for a non-musical. Which is why the sound of an audience member's cell phone during one of the show's performances last week was not music to anyone's ears. To his credit, Jackman, the one interrupted, kept his cool. Although he was clearly annoyed, he attempted to remain in character, urging the anonymous offender to either answer the phone or silence it. Sadly but not surprisingly, the phone just rang. And rang. And rang. Until whomever it was on the other end of the line got the owner's voice mail. Little did the unsuspecting caller realize that he had just thrown Hugh Jackman off his game.

Had this happened during a loud and innocuous musical (Mamma Mia! springs to mind), the actors on stage probably wouldn't even have heard the cell phone. But whether it's ABBA tunes blaring or iambic pentameter being spoken, there is simply no excuse for this sort of transgression in a theater. (Or anywhere else that quiet is expected—from a church to a golf tournament.) We could nearly overlook this mistake if it weren't for the fact that before every Broadway musical, an announcement is played imploring the audience to turn off all phones. Indeed, I recently saw Rock of Ages—another show that probably wouldn't know the difference if ten cell phones went off during one of its regurgitated 1980s hair-band hits. But even before the latter jukebox musical starts, a voice from off-stage exhorts spectators to turn off their phones and to not send text-messages during the play, reserving a choice word for anyone who does.

But back to A Steady Rain. The story goes from bad to worse. Not only was a cell phone trill let loose on the ears of the actors, but as fate would have it, a pleased-as-punch audience member caught the whole thing on video. And so transpired another breach of theater etiquette. Recording a performance without permission is illegal. Everyone knows that. But thanks to this rule-breaker, the world can relive the whole agonizing episode on the Internet. At least the videographer knew well enough to keep his phone on silent. But he certainly had it ready to speed-dial TMZ when the time came.

Here's the worrisome thing....a whole slate of movie actors are scheduled to take their place on Broadway stages in the coming months.... Jude LawCatherine Zeta JonesSienna Miller and Geoffrey Rush among them. What will they do when—far from the quiet of the Hollywood sound stage–they encounter the scourge of the cell phone in front of a live audience? Maybe if it's the T-Mobile tinkle that rings out, former spokesperson Jones can yell out "Get More!" and earn a product-placement fee.

Lesson to all phone users out there: keep your phone permanently on vibrate and better yet, if you are somewhere that hushed silence is required, just turn the device off. After all, isn't Broadway about escaping to another place and time? Why would you want your iPhone to bring you back to reality?

Bottom line: If you're one of those hopeless types who just can't bear to turn your phone off—ever—perhaps you should spare your paycheck and get yourself a Netflix membership instead.