I am very careful about what I say in a theatre or in the lobby during intermission if I don't like the play. I have overheard things about my work that I wish I hadn't more than once. I remember seeing a show 15 years ago in I think the Royale, one of those old great Shubert houses on 45th Street, and I was with my parents. We were sitting in the orchestra very near one of the boxes. I'd been backstage in that house. There is a curtain hanging underneath the box, and if you go behind it, you are backstage. At that time there wasn't even a door. At intermission my mother starts- ranting would be the right word- about how she hates the acting. I'm begging her to shut up or lower her voice because at best she's entertaining the stage management staff, and at worst she's undermining the actors' confidence. Which I told her, and which, of course, didn't stop her.
In Manhattan, there's the ten block rule. You have to be ten blocks away to say Anything negative, however much you're dying to, to whomever you saw the show with. I really try to stick to this rule, which it's always easy if you've sat still for three hours and had your head brimming with what you want to say. An old boyfriend of mine extended the ten block rule to include cars with the windows closed.
But once in awhile when you're the target, you hear something good. I worked on a 24 Hour Play Festival in Kansas when I was playwright-in-residence at the Inge Center. It was not the best of circumstances. I'd be there 36 hours, my divorce lawyer was having a hard time with my case, I had bronchitis, I was on antibiotics and had a raging fever. My play was in the first half, and the lead actor had far from mastered his lines so there was a lot of the other actors milling around onstage and trying to feed the lines to him. So the only thing for me to do at intermission was go out for a smoke. There was a family already out there- mother, father, adult son. They talked about what they'd just seen. The more obvious and cliched the situation, the more it was like a TV skit, the more they liked the play. So then they got around to mine. "I didn't like it," the son said. "Why?" asked his mother. "Because you didn't know what was going to happen next," he said. Which to me is the the best thing he could have said. If you do know what's going to happen next, then what's the point?
Smith & Kraus felt otherwise; it's coming out in their "Best Short Plays for Three or More Actors" this year. It's called "Body Shop."