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When three's a crowd ... it's time to get back out there

It’s getting near to the point where I’d even pay money to watch “Synecdoche, New York” again.

Thankfully, we’re not quite there yet — but, still, too close for comfort.

Local musicians have returned to playing selected gigs.

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre is on track for its July 16 opening of “The Odd Couple” ... and, if there’s anyone in factual or fictional history who would wear a mask, it’s Felix Unger.

The Varsity has started showing movies on the weekends.

Slowly, tip-toeing with trepidation, the arts have started emerging from suspended animation — even as COVID-19 has hunkered down, threatening to disrupt our lives for the second half of 2020.

We’re thankful for our screens, upon which we’ve been able to watch, read, listen, download and stream entertainment options to settle our nervous systems, or spirit us away from unpleasant realities.

On Wednesday morning, for instance, the passing of the irreplaceable Carl Reiner led me to watch the classic “Coast to Coast Big Mouth” episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — wherein Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura blabs to the nation that Reiner’s Alan Brady is bald.

Laura, looking not a little like Jackie Kennedy, enters Brady’s office to apologize. He stops her from speaking, then swivels his chair to address the five toupees adorning individual mannequin heads atop his desk.

“Fellas,” he says with a tone of collegial commiseration, “there she is. There’s the little lady who put you out of business.”

And we laugh.

But our laughter falls in line with that from those watching the performance in person. The “Van Dyke” show was one of the few comedies in those days that was performed before what was referred to with pride as a “live studio audience” — the alternative being a bit unsettling to consider.

It’s the organic, laughter that’s been missing from our experience these past few months. The mere joy found by sitting with friends and strangers, appreciating the artistic talents of others.

We have missed them, of course; but we’ve missed us, as well.

Sitting alone, or with a handful of others, in front of a screen can’t capture the symbiosis of leaving our cocoons and sharing our willing disbelief.

The interactive nature of a performance breathes not just between artist and onlooker on either side of the fourth wall, but steadily beats within an audience.

Back in February of 2011, a road company of the Monty Python musical “Spamalot” came to the Craterian. The place was packed (there being nothing quite like the loyalty of Python fans) and the four of us were fortunate to find adjoining seats high in the balcony.

“Spamalot” ... which, for those unaware, is culled from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” ... is one of those shows that’s truly communal. (Think “Rocky Horror” ... without the fishnet stockings.)

Nearly the entire audience knows the lines and series of events by heart, and as much fun was to be had sensing the anticipation of the assembled as a deadly bunny, or an insult involving hamsters and elderberries approached.

That exhilaration is why we tamp down our anxieties about crowds and dare to mingle with the like-minded.

And, sometimes, even join in.

Ellie Alexander — the prolific mystery writer whose new release, “Nothing Bundt Trouble” is the latest in her Bakeshop Series set in Ashland — was giving a reading at Bloomsbury Books a few years back.

She mentioned that readers ask her how much her fictionalized Ashland resembles the real one.

“Do you tell them,” a sarcastic sort in attendance interjected, “about the apparently high murder rate we have here?”

Again, a moment of laughter shared. Alexander went along with the joke and the distance between author and reader shortened. It was a reminder that when we make a choice to attend, we aren’t required to be simply attentive.

Besides ... I just couldn’t help myself.

That urge to react, with laughter, applause or pointed remark, is much needed these days — especially when our interaction is limited to the snide games of “I’m rubber and you’re glue” that get played out by those who live to win Fonzie Cool Points on social media.

The sharing of an artistic experience unites rather than divides — even when that unity is achieved through sitting through something painful.

Like, say ... “Synecdoche, New York.”

Roger Ebert called the Charlie Kaufman movie the best film of the decade of the 2000s.

Because it entrances those with intellectual, psychological pretensions, it becomes one of those film/books/musicians that one “must” say they like ... or else lose their desired hipster cred.

“Synecdoche” (and it pains me to realize that I can now spell that correctly without looking it up) tells a Russian-doll allegory of a playwright whose mind begins to shatter — to the point where his latest effort ultimately grows so large and so inward that not only does a member of the “cast” portray the playwright, but another actor assumes the role of an actor who plays the actor who plays the playwright.

As a fan of Kaufman efforts “Being John Malkovich,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation,” I had high hopes for “Synecdoche.”

The sparse audience for the showing at the Varsity Theatre, though, should have been a harbinger of foul weather ahead.

Despite its reputation, “Synecdoche” was a slog, a two-hour-and-four-minute trudge through a pseudo-sophisticated mud pit that — once you understand the premise, and where it’s headed — traps its audience in the middle of a slow-motion train wreck.

When it was over (I was among the few who stayed until the bitter end, just to see whether it would actually finish), I sat there in silence as the lights slowly came up in the theater.

From behind me came a woman’s voice.

“What the hell,” she asked, “was that crap?”

The survivors all turned, our eyes meeting each other’s, and we broke out in smiles ... strangers, united as one.

I miss that.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin suffers from only a flesh wound at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

Robert Galvin