Tuesday, May 11, 2010

There are a couple

of good conversations going on in the comments of Bitter Lemons. They both revolve around this guy who writes at LA Theatre Review and calls himself Addison DeWitt. Lemons has banned him until he comes out from behind his campy cloak of anonymity, which gets folks going about the nature of anonymous posting on the net. Check that out here.

Sidenote, I'm using male pronouns since DeWitt's chosen a male name for his persona; for all we know the writer could be female, which makes a nice segue into....

The other convo appears to have wrapped up, but it's the one I find the most interesting. It's based on a previous Addison DeWitt column, about how he is sick of your gender blind bullshit. Here's Lemons' post.

DeWitt's column is precious and irritating (much like his namesake), driven largely by a suspicion that a sort of guilty liberal anxiety about equitable casting is driving the decision-making. DeWitt also suggests that he finds the thematic exploration of gender to be academic, more appropriate for a "doctoral thesis." To that assertion I'd reply, "ask any young person in middle-America who doesn't easily conform to gender norms if he or she finds his or her experiences to be academic and get back to me." If I'm taking this a little personally, it's because I'm contemplating going gender-bent with one or two characters in a family play I've been working on, and with very specific, hopefully visceral, emotional (even a little comic) intention. I can't help but bristle at his line of thinking here.

Things open up in the comments, though; it seems the bulk of the conversation veers more towards taking issue with directors messing around with plays by using non-traditional casting (particularly from the playwrights chiming in). What really strikes me is the idea that gender blind casting should be seen as an affront to the play and/or the playwright. That seems a bit reactionary, but then I also don't go into a play with gender-blind casting and automatically wonder why the hell they had to go and screw everything up by doing something like that. I usually just go with it, marveling at the ones who do a good job of passing and getting crabby about those who don't, but doing my best to suspend disbelief in order to engage with the play.

And as for my writing, I can't say I'd be thrilled with gender blind casting of all my plays, but I've had some experiences where I would gladly take an actor of ANY gender, age, race, etc., who actually said the lines I wrote rather than piss-poor paraphrases and/or waited to get high until after the rehearsal was over.


Geoff Hoff said...

I think Dewitt had in mind the gender "blind", rather then an author specifically playing with gender identity, which, it seems to me, is right up his (her?) alley.

Kyle said...

Yes, but his assertion stands that he finds gender blind casting for thematic reasons to be academic (from his post: "an examination of gender roles in modern society...is acceptable to me only within the confines of Academia or an in-house workshop production."). This is a form of condescension I've run across from more than one critic in the recent past; it serves to dismiss legitimate thematic investigation (whether author or director-driven) as somehow remote from general audiences. This is, to my mind, a bizarre kind of back-handed ghettoization.

I don't know who Addison Dewitt is, but I guess it's fitting that he would choose such a problematic queer icon as his namesake if he's going to make such arguments. And by problematic I mean self-hating queen.