Less than one percent, if even that, of the Portland public attends a theatrical event, but if the reader decides to enact such a folly, here are some realities about the local theater scene to be aware of.

Shills: These are members of the company and friends of the actors who laugh really loudly in order to make the critics think that the comedy they are watching is actually funny. I don't know why companies think that reviewers are so easily gulled, but they do. This has happened to me several times in two years.

In the fall of 1998, I was watching a comedy troop perform a parody of an old time radio detective story at the Theater! Theatre! space. In the front row was a trio of people who not only laughed, but convulsed--rocked back and forth in their seats as if seized by St. Vitus' dance. Since the play wasn't all that funny, I was skeptical of this distracting trio, especially given that I had seen them talking to the actors in the hallway before the start of the play.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I was watching An Evening with Alan Ball at the Russell Street Theater, and noted rather loud and sharp laughter coming at me stereophonically from the extreme left and right. Funny: one never sees weeping shills, only laughing ones.

Urine: Apparently there is a law in the Portland theater statutes that says you can't leave the auditorium while the play is in progress for any reason. Do not neglect to make a quick trip to the loo before a performance, as I did recently for No Mercy. Not long after the play started, I noticed that unmistakable bladder pressure. It's not bad, really--only like a rusty nail driven up your urethra, that's all.

And it gets worse with time, like cancer and holiday songs. Finally I said a mental "Fuck you, I prefer my dick to this play," and dashed down the hallway to the john. Nevertheless, the two minutes spent before the urinal were the only fun I had that evening.

Staring: One of the few pleasures of the Portland stage is the freedom to stare at attractive people when they can't do anything about it. But what if they stare back? This happened to me recently at Lion in the Streets, an extremely well-acted play by a top-notch ensemble. In this case, it was Deirdre Atkinson. At one point as my eye wandered about the players, my eyes fell on her and she was looking at me. Unnerved, I looked away, chalking it up as one of those weird moments such as when two people start talking simultaneously with the same words. But then it happened again later. I'm not making this up. She was looking at me! No, she really was!