There is something in the legal world called "expectation damages" -- these are basically damages that represent the amount one would have obtained if a breach of contract had not occurred. This isn't a novel concept; almost everything in life is based on the gap between what you get and what you expect. If your kid gets A's her whole life, the first B seems like a failure; if she has received C's for years, you might want to bake a celebratory cake when the first B comes. So it is when you enter the theater -- your expectations form your experience.
In advance of mother's day, I was originally going to turn part of a post over to my mother, as has been my tradition through the years. We went to see The Lyons specifically so she could review it -- in my head it was the perfect fit, a Jewish mother weighing in on a comedy about a Jewish mother. The thing is, I knew what to expect going in. I know the absurdest caricatures that Nicky Silver creates. My mother was expecting to see a comedy about the people she knows, a heartwarming tale of a loving Jewish mother caught in a ridiculous situation. Rita Lyons wasn't the matriarch she had in mind. And you must understand, my mother has very specific ideas about what all Jewish people are like. She raised me to believe that Jews don't eat pumpkin pie; when I met a Jewish person whose favorite pie was pumpkin and confronted my mother with this information, she replied: "Oh, well, she's from California, that's different." For her, The Lyons wasn't about any Jewish mother she ever knew. Rita Lyons wasn't an overprotective mother, she wasn't smothering, and therefore she wasn't real. This view, I believe, impacted my mother's entire experience at the play. She laughed at a few remarks, but others that led to an uproarious response in most people, caused my mother to roll her eyes in disgust. You see, at the root of it, she was shocked by the somewhat nasty Rita Lyons and she didn't want her to be Jewish. She felt it was somehow an affront.
Had my mother known what to expect going in, had she perhaps seen a Nicky Silver play in the past and been prepared for this one, I doubt her reaction would have been anywhere near as vehement. The Lyons is far from a perfect play (the second act remains troublesome), but it is funny. And, as you probably have heard, Linda Lavin is giving yet another genius performance. You have to take it for what it is -- a comedy about one particular family. My mother wasn't mentally prepared to do that.
Whereas entering Ghost, we knew we were going to a special effects-filled synth pop musical, and that is what we got. Count me among the few members of the press who had a good time at Ghost. My mother also recommends it. Yes, it was over-the-top, occasionally ridiculous and could have used some technological trimming, but it was something. I would rather sit through it again than Newsies. That's going to offend many, but it's the truth. Is it a genius musical? No. But with Ghost there is always something to watch, something interesting to see. Because I actually enjoyed my time at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, I would certainly have pushed Ghost over Leap of Faith, which beat it out for a Tony nomination. I was never bored during Ghost. And, in the end, it was actually better done than I thought it would be. Now I understand that is not saying much; I had higher hopes for both Newsies and Leap of Faith than I did for Ghost, and I fully believe that factors (albeit unfairly) into everything I have written in this paragraph. That's life.
Expectations always factor into experiences. I often don't read reviews or chat board posts before attending shows just for this reason -- there is something to be said for being a tabula rasa. Yet I know there is no way for me to be a blank slate when I enter the theater, for I generally know too much about a show's creators and/or cast and/or the property in general to go in with no preconceptions. Sometimes my knowledge helps me (like I believe it would have helped my mother before The Lyons), but other times I wish I could block it out, putting everything on an even playing field. I suppose all I can do is try to view all shows impartially, and encourage parents to treat all B's the same.