I went to New York City last night to see a play by a friend, Jon Leaf (http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2009/07/smartest-guy-i-ever-met.html). The play, "Sexual Healing," was quite good. It was based -- not so loosely -- on the relationship between the sex therapists William Masters and Virginia Johnson, in a story told mostly from Johnson's point of view. It was well written, well cast, and well acted. The first half of the play featured a fair amount of sex, or at least talk about sex, which tends to hold one's interest. And the second half featured a fair amount of tension, which also tends to hold one's interest.
But the entire experience reminded me of why I prefer movies. No stage set, no matter how cleverly designed, can possibly live up to location shots, particularly of beautiful locations. (Please name the play which features scenery as beautiful as that in The Sound of Music -- or Avatar.) I know, at a play you're supposed to appreciate what the designers have done with their limited resources; but appreciating what a cinematographer can do is more rewarding.
In a movie, close-ups allow the actors the luxury of subtlety. Stage actors must throw their voices -- and emote -- for the cheap seats. This hammy acting can be annoying if you're sitting nearby -- or even in the cheap seats.
A film allows you to gaze at actors who look like Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren -- at their peak. Stage actors are rarely movie star handsome. Even the villains in movies look more villainous. It's more fun to look at a villain who looks like Jack Palance in Shane than one who looks like someone you'd meet at a suburban barbecue.
Another problem in a play is that you must be on your best behavior. (Whisper in a movie theater and it won't bother the actors on the screen one bit.) If you feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, too bad; you must wait till intermission. And at the end of the play, not clapping for the actors as they all appear would be extremely rude.
A play theater is never quite as dark as a movie theater, either. Last night, having had dinner right before the play, during the first act I loosened my belt and undid my pant buckle. Suddenly aware that the people around me might think I was doing something untoward during the sexy scenes, I made a point of holding both of my hands -- prayer style -- in front of my mouth, so that they could see I was not using the play as a peep show.
There are people who feel more intimately involved in a story if it's told by live actors. Understandable, if misguided.
Finally, there is the difference in price. Play tickets, especially for Broadway shows, are far more expensive than movie tickets. And parking in the Times Square area is not cheap.
The ideal solution involves patience. Once a movie comes out on DVD, you can provide entertainment for an entire group of people for less than the price of one movie ticket, and watch it in comfort from your own home. And if you have to go to the bathroom, just stop the action till you return. (Try that in a theater.)