In the Vulture review of the new Broadway production Prima Facie, Jackson McHenry describes the play as essentially “one long run-on sentence,” a feature-length feat for solo performer Jodie Comer. Alone onstage, she talks for 100 minutes straight, delivering dense writing replete with legal jargon at a breakneck pace. This is impressive enough under the best conditions, and it is apparently impossible under the worst conditions. During the June 7 matinee of the play, with Canadian wildfire smoke blanketing New York City, Comer halted her performance minutes into the show, saying, “I can’t breathe in this air.” According to one audience member, coincidentally a meteorologist, she said, “I’m sorry guys,” and a stagehand escorted her offstage. A representative for Prima Facie confirmed to Vulture that the show was halted ten minutes into the performance and started again from the top with understudy Dani Arlington filling in for Comer.
At the time of this writing, the official Air Quality Index in the Broadway area of midtown Manhattan is at 413, which places it in the “hazardous” zone, begetting a “health warning of emergency conditions,” (although apparently, this health warning doesn’t apply to understudies performing 100-minute monologues).
On Twitter, others in the Broadway community expressed their concerns with the poor air quality in their theaters. One Wicked performer tweeted, “The dressing rooms and backstage areas today smell like smoke, everyone is having trouble breathing.” A Broadway usher tweeted, “I’m currently in the middle of an ushering shift and have had to use my inhaler 4 times … I could barely hold a conversation during intermission because I couldn’t breathe.” A performer in Parade tweeted at Actors’ Equity, “everyone in our Broadway show has headaches and sore throats and trouble breathing to sing. We’re on a smoky stage and not in our dressing rooms where our air purifiers are. HELP US!!!!!”
No announcement has been made about tonight’s scheduled 8 p.m. Prima Facie performance.