Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Traveling back, Looking forward

Thanks to links from Facebook friends, I had seen the response from Kristin Chenoweth to a fairly ridiculous piece about gay actors not being able to play straight convincingly that appeared in Newsweek recently. Well, the backlash continues in this “Traveling Back to the 1950s” piece in today’s online “Entertainment Weekly.” I like this piece because it repeats and reinforces a key point: whatever characterizes an actor’s off-screen or off-stage life does not, by default, determine how effective they are in a specific role. I have seen plenty of gay actors convincingly play straight. Also, going way beyond sexual identity, I have seen actors who seem to have no real affection for children in real life very effectively play caring mothers and fathers. I’ve seen actors who are extremely caring and nurturing human beings turn into very believable sociopaths on stage. And I’ve seen actors who were arguably mentally ill portraying reasonably normal people.

Another point hinted at but not fully explored in either piece (as far as I can remember) is that most audience members have little or no information about the private lives of most of the actors they see. And though there is a salacious interest in the private lives of celebs, it is only for the top 10% of the 10% of very successful actors that this is really even remotely an issue at all.

I think the focus on Jonathan Groff is particularly funny. I was familiar with Groff, I may have even seen him in “Spring Awakening” (will have to check with the wife on that one…) and yet, I had no idea he was gay. And it didn’t matter in the least in terms of my enjoyment of him on “Glee.” His highly-theatrical turn as Rachel’s rival-turned-boyfriend struck me as just that: highly-theatrical, perfectly matching Rachel’s similar vibe. To consider it “gay” is a homophobic reinforcement of the notion that boys who love singing / dancing / performing – instead of the culturally accepted sporting pursuits – must OF COURSE be gay.

My point, though, is that knowing whether or not he was gay, straight, a vegetarian, a pedophile, or an Episcopalian did not effect my perception of Mr. Groff’s performance. The key to me – and I expect to the huge majority of viewers – was whether he was convincing and engaging in the role. It’d be interesting to pose the question to the original article writer: does the fact that the actor who plays Artie is not actually disabled change the way you think about his performance? In the final analysis -- and putting it as charitably as I can -- I think the Newsweek article says much more about the writer than about the subject that he was writing about.

Switching topics, I’m always excited during this time of year when theater companies are announcing their seasons for the fall. So far, I am particularly intrigued and delighted by the choice of “Waiting for Godot” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” as the season openers for Henley Street and the Firehouse, respectively. These are both dream plays for actors providing choice tidbits for scenery-chewers to bite into. From what I’ve heard, Larry Cook and Laine Satterfield have already been cast in the Richard Burton / Elizabeth Taylor roles at Firehouse. That should be an exceptional treat. Larry won an RTCC award last year, and Laine was nominated for both the 2009 and 2008 awards.

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