8/3/2018 1 Comment
Last night, I saw a community theater production of The Last Five Years -- ever since I saw the movie version featuring Anna Kendrick (the woman's a goddess), I've been in love with the soundtrack and innovative style of storytelling. I couldn't wait to see it on stage! Plus, I'd never been to a two-person show before, so it was a total major first for me.
But when I got to the theater -- surprise!
The director had made the show about lesbians. Or maybe the male character was trans? Or maybe I was supposed to just ignore the part where "he" (because they were still using the masculine pronouns) was wearing a bra after getting out of bed with a woman? Or maybe in order to suspend my disbelief, I must force myself to reject the gender binary? Or something?
Don't get me wrong -- I thought the backlash about the 2016 all-female reboot of Ghostbusters was ridiculous. I mean, you wonder why SJWs use phrases like "fragile masculinity" and "male tears." That's why. Like, use your common sense, dudes. First of all, it was a reboot, not a sequel. It's based on an entirely different storyline and set of characters. They weren't retroactively changing the context or content of the original.
Second... why do you even care? I don't care if people "appropriate" culture, because they are free to eat and wear whatever they want. I don't care if people use "offensive" words (in facts, I've already used one in this post -- because "lame" is now considered a microaggression), because I'm a big girl and words don't hurt me. I don't get my panties up in a bunch about Halloween costumes. And I don't care if people remake old movies with a modern, feminine flare -- if it doesn't interest me, I won't go see it.
Which is exactly what I did: not go see it.
Out of disinterest, not protest. I figured it would be another of those lame female comedies, like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot or Bridesmaids, where literally all four funny moments were in the trailer and everything else was just kind of pathetic. But then I ended up on a four-hour flight to New York and Girl Ghostbusters was on, so I figured, "Why not?"
It was actually really funny. I laughed out loud several times, quoted some of the lines to my boyfriend (who watched it with me) over the next few days, and would recommend it to my friends.
And then there's Shakespeare. Shakespeare has always been about gender benders and artistic license.
But... The Last Five Years?
This is a musical. That means the actors sing.
It's about a man and a woman -- in fact, about the composer, Jason Robert Brown, and his ex-wife, Theresa O'Neill. The artist's work so closely resembled his real-life failed marriage that O'Neill actually threatened legal action, so Brown changed the song "I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You" to "Shiksa Goddess" in order to reduce the similarity between the female character, Cathy, and O'Neill.
Great song, right? I LOL'ed. (Especially since I was a shiksa once.) The movie version of this song is incredibly playful and sexy... and listen to the way he sings those low notes!
That wasn't really the energy I felt at the theater last night.
Because it turns out...
There are some real biological differences between men and women.
One of them is that men have lower voices. As a lifelong fan of musicals, I found it distracting when the "male" lead had to skip up and down between octaves. And as a recreational lyricist, I was really disappointed that about 10% of the low notes weren't projected or enunciated clearly.
Listen to the song again, starting at 0:40. Can you really picture a woman singing those notes?
Say she could hit all the notes, projecting and enunciating and just crushing every part. THEN would I have thought it was, like, super cool and open-minded and progressive to cast a female Jamie?
Because there was nothing else in the play that made me think, "Wow, casting a female Jamie was a really interesting decision that challenged me to see this production a certain way."
It just seemed like a random decision someone made for the sake of being "progressive."
Like, a gender bend might have been really interesting -- how does seeing a man struggle with flailing while his wife's career flourishes change my response to the relationship?
Or... maybe if an active effort had been made to change the dynamics between Cathy and Jamie, rather than keep everything exactly the same except with a girl playing a boy's part. (I'm not sure how that would work in The Last Five Years -- but say someone cast a female Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar? There's this super bitchy, jealous dynamic between male Judas and female Mary that I think the director could have a lot of fun with by casting a female Judas.)
If Jamie was supposed to be trans, or a lesbian, or whatever, maybe that should have been made clear, so that I didn't have to remove myself from their world to wonder. I can only suspend so much disbelief, and when the male (?) character walks around in a bra or is smaller than both of the female characters... it's just a little distracting.
Especially during songs like A Miracle Would Happen / When You Come Home To Me, in which Jamie expresses particularly male frustrations: now that he's married and successful, he's always the center of attention, and lots of hot women hit on him... "but you can't touch them!"
Fully immersed in the song, I would have found it hilarious (though it definitely rubbed me a little wrong when he referred to a woman as "a pair of breasts"). But instead, I found myself thinking, "Like, lesbians? Or, like, are they straight? I don't even know." The actress who played Jamie was great... but without the masculine energy, the song fell a little flat.
Casting decisions that defy the author's original vision can undermine some of the subtleties that make the show great.
Which... I think is okay. As long as you're doing it for a reason -- and you keep in mind that your one-time decision is only as good as your follow-through. It's not enough to make a progressive casting decision if you're not going to follow up by considering how this switch will affect every other aspect of your play.
Like, say Girl Ghostbusters were the same as the original... but with girls. It wouldn't have been nearly as funny if the writers didn't consider what specifically women and the feminine energy could add to the comedy and storyline. In fact... it could have been really awkward in parts, because the audience would look at it and say, "That's weird. A woman wouldn't do that."
Female Judas would work really well without a single script change if the blocking hinted at a romantic attraction between Judas and Jesus.
But just casting a woman in a man's role without taking additional steps to show me why you made that decision... it makes me think the reason you did it was because more women than men try out for plays, and you were trying to be fair or give an opportunity to a woman or something.
Which isn't something I'm against. As long as you remember that equality of treatment is just... but equality of outcome is completely unjust.