Connoisseurs of live theater know that performances can change over a show's run, often for the better. Less noticed, perhaps, except by the actors themselves, is that audiences evolve, too. As the Dividing the Estate houses have swelled since the reviews came out a month ago, so has the amount of laughter night after night. The ripening of the jokes and the timing onstage have been accompanied, I've noticed, by the sharpening of remarks I overhear as I hang out in front of the Booth before showtime and in the lobby during intermission. To wit:
Woman With Channel 13 Tote Bag: Is Texas as Southern as this play is?
Man With Briefcase: I don't know. I've never been south of Newark.
Woman: Not even to Florida?
Man: Florida doesn't count -- it's its own country.
Woman: Just like Texas.
Tall Man: Why are the characters all fanning themselves? Doesn't the house have central air-conditioning?
Short Man: I guess not.
Tall Man: Maybe they can't afford it.
Short Man: But they're rich.
Tall Man: Have you looked at your Con Ed bill lately?
Husband: I hear that Horton Foote knew Tennessee Williams.
Wife: I knew Tennessee Williams, too.
Husband: We've been married for 42 years and you never told me that.
Wife: I thought you might be jealous.
Woman #1: Would you want to live in an old house like theirs?
Woman #2: No.
Woman #1: Why not?
Woman #2: Modern houses are easier to clean.
Woman #2: More electrical outlets -- easier to vacuum.
First Tall Woman: Do you think this play is realistic when a housekeeper shouts at her employer to come help her in the kitchen?
Second Tall Woman: When I was growing up, our housekeeper shouted at us to help her all the time.
First: Your mother didn't mind?
Second: My mother was never within yelling range.
Man #1: Are there any other playwrights besides Horton Foote who write such great parts for family members?
Man #2: Arthur Miller wrote "The Misfits" for Marilyn Monroe.
Man #1: As I remember, that movie led to their divorce.
Loud Man: Elizabeth Ashley's Wikipedia entry says that she may do a play called Looped, about a day in the life of Tallulah Bankhead.
Louder Man: That sounds fun.
Loud Man: I'm not so sure.
Louder Man: Why?
Loud Man: You know the old saying -- "A day without Tallulah is like a month in the country."
Woman in Red: When my Aunt Ellie's estate was divided 15 years ago, the largest bequest went to her pet tortoise, Biffy.
Woman in Blue: How much did Biffy get?
Red: Two million dollars.
Blue: Who got Biffy's share when Biffy died?
Red: Biffy's still alive.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com