Shhhh."Five minutes into a matinee of Fiddler On The Roof, I'm doing something I've never done before. I'm telling my mother to be quiet.
"I like a deeper voice," she whispers, pointing to Brent Carver's stooped-over, light-voiced and incredibly moving -- for me, anyway -- Tevye the milkman.
"Topol," I snap. "Shhhh."
"The other guy."
"No, that's not it," she says. "I can't remember."
"Tell me later," I mutter, my eyes on the stage.
She finally gets the hint and stays quiet.
Uninterrupted now, the songs roll out, one by one. Tradition. If I Were A Rich Man. Sunrise, Sunset. Each written in a heartbreaking, old-world minor key.
After an hour, I see her take off her glasses and wipe away a tear. I guess she was moved after all.
She's not alone. I'm sobbing.
Going to the Stratford Festival musical with my parents has become something of a tradition itself.
For the past several years, they've packed a cooler, picked me up at the York Mills subway station and driven me -- the middle of three boys, the unmarried one, the one with the original cast albums and the arty job -- to Canada's largest rep theatre fest.
It's a welcome late-summer getaway, a chance to catch up on news and gossip about relatives and walk along a swan-filled pond. Big-city kid goes back to nature.
Usually the musicals have nothing to do with our lives. The Music Man, for instance, with its 76 Trombones. Pure escapism.
But Fiddler's different. It's about finding the right mate, breaking with tradition and yet respecting one's parents, too. It's about families staying together and growing old, no matter what.
It's the perfect coming-out fantasy musical.
As I watch Tevye's daughters defy him and pair off with increasingly untraditional partners, I'm reminded of my own life.
Years after coming out, I've never introduced my parents to any of my boyfriends. Even though, to the shock of my friends, straight and gay, my parents have wanted to meet them.
"Do you have anyone special you want to invite to Thanksgiving?" my mom would ask. "Or to Christmas dinner?"
"No," I'd say, embarrassed. "I haven't met the right person yet." The same line you give to nosy relatives at weddings.
Maybe I'm cowardly, afraid the guy won't measure up, won't be good enough for them. Or maybe I secretly believe they're not good enough for me. Or maybe I'm just too critical, like my mom. Thinking of that other guy. Whatsizname.
"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match," sing Tevye's hopeful daughters. If only.
During intermission, my mother announces she wants to go to the washroom. My father returns to his seat, but I wait outside for her as the last-minute bell pings persistently.
They're getting older, my parents. They shake out little pills before meals. My father's getting liver spots on his face. My mother's hair, though still black, is thinning slightly.
They want me to be settled down.
"There you are," I say to my mom as she emerges from the restroom. We hurry back to our seats in time for the next act.