Theater of the lost mind

Arm-in-arm, we approached the ticket taker, excited to be out on the town once again. This was our first time in a real theater, the kind with a mezzanine and velvet ropes, since our son Evan was born almost two years ago.

“I hope this goes okay,” my wife Kara whispered to me.

“Enjoy the show,” the ticket taker said, and we followed the crowd inside, ready to take in a matinee performance.

The first indication that we weren’t attending a normal show occurred a moment later, just inside the doors, when an usher turned to us and asked, “Would you like a booster seat?”

“Sure,” I said, taking the foam pad. Evan followed close behind, his arms over his head, grasping the fingers of a grandparent on either side.

“Hey buddy, are we going to see Elmo?” I asked.

“Welmo,” Evan agreed.

Evan had brought his entourage to see Elmo’s Green Thumb, a Sesame Street Live production designed for the more discerning theater-going toddler. The hallways buzzed with hordes of kids sporting $15 Elmo T-shirts and spinning $15 light-up Elmo toys. Elmo’s thumb obviously wasn’t just green because of his gardening acumen. The fuzzy little guy didn’t miss any opportunities to create some commerce. Perhaps the show should have been called Elmo’s Green Palms.

But the price of admission (and accessories) was worth it as soon as the characters started coming out on stage, with Evan waving to Cookie Monster and Big Bird from his booster seat. There was magic in the air as Elmo enjoyed the loudest reception that our nation’s youth bestows upon any non-Bieber entity.

Evan absolutely loved it, for at least ten minutes. To be fair, that was eight minutes longer than the previous record for anything holding his attention, dethroning a Taco Bell sauce packet.

About halfway into the second musical number, I pontificated on the nature of survival instinct. Is it truly an instinct, or is survival a learned behavior? I began to lean toward the latter as Evan attempted to climb over the mezzanine railing.

“No, Evan,” I said, pushing his knee back down. We were in the first row of the mezzanine, which is a much more relaxing place to be when nobody from your party is attempting to hurl themselves over the edge.

“No, Evan,” I said as he tried again. And again.

“AAAAAHHHHHH!” he screeched, turning around to glare at his unreasonable father, who never lets him do anything fun.

We took turns passing Evan between the four of us, trying to keep him involved in the show. During one of my off shifts, I peered over the railing to see half of the audience playing with its twirly Elmo lights.

“Why don’t kids have any attention spans?” I thought. Then I noticed that the other half of the audience was texting.

Toward the end of the show, I followed Evan as he explored the empty seats at the back of the theater. It would have taken a rig similar to the one from Clockwork Orange to get him to watch the rest of the show from his seat. As he climbed into each seat in row ZZ one-at-a-time, I looked down to see his mother and his grandparents learning important lessons from Elmo about, well, about something, I’m sure. I have no idea what happened after intermission.

After the show, Evan bopped down the sidewalk with a $10 Elmo balloon floating over his head, all smiles. Our first theater experience as parents may have been a bit more aerobic than we’d expected, but we felt a sense of accomplishment for lasting until the final curtain. Still, we’ll probably wait a decade or two before tackling Phantom of the Opera.

You can keep Mike Todd from climbing over the railing at mikectodd@gmail.com.