So ACT Already!

I wrote about seeing a production of Henry IV part 1 where Hal and Hotspur were played by women.  And in the Globe’s production inLondon this summer,  Falstaff is, too.

In the production I saw,  I found the beauty of the actresses distracting.  They were wearing pants and all, not dresses, but we dont consider that to be cross-dressing, so that didn’t help the illusion.

I read that when Sarah Bernhardt played male rôles,  famously Hamlet, she studied how young men move, talk, gesture.  She played the title rôle in L’Aiglon,  about the short-lived son of Napoleon, and she hung out with cavalry officers for weeks before she strode onstage.  It was the fact that her performance was so perfectly masculine which excited so much praise for her acting skill.

in 1999, Mark Rylance played Cleopatra.  In the still photos from the production, he looks….like a beautiful woman.

I thought of that when I watched Zach Galifianakis’ show Baskets  last night.  Louie Andersen plays the matriarch Christine.  And you never think of his gender for a moment!  The character is totally feminine, everything about her is pitch perfect.  His voice doesn’t interfere with the illusion, possibly because he’s playing an older, obese woman.   ( I love this show; sadly this season 4 is its last—check it Out!)

So okay!  Actors are supposed to counterfeit people they themselves are not, that’s kinda their whole schtick.  I’m sure when famous white actors played Othello, they darkened their skin.  The lines of the play wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

If women play male characters, let them act like men in every particular.  If men play female rôles, check out Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets.  And if people of other  races play white characters, they should make up accordingly, and polish their acting skill set by counterfeiting the mannerisms accents and body language of the character’s  race.

Can  white actors play black characters?  Yes.  If you don’t believe me, get the movie  Tropic Thunder (2008) where Robert Downey Jr played a white actor playing a black man, who for some reason stayed in character and makeup even when the camera wasn’t rolling.  Nobody even squawked  about it, he was so good!

A talented actor can play anyone. And that display of skill, when you realize you’ve forgotten his/her gender or race, , provides extreme pleasure and delight  to the audience.  Which is what acting is supposed to do.


7 thoughts on “So ACT Already!”

  1. I just watched a clip of Louie in Baskets – very funny indeed! There were a couple movies in which Alec Guinness impersonated a woman, which I liked a lot too. Female villains are often well done by male actors – I remember being disappointed that Miss Trunchbull in the movie Matilda was played by a woman – it would have been a lot funnier played by a man.

    An interesting incident happened a couple years ago in the community theater near me, sort of on the topic. The group staged the play Love Letters, which is a show often performed for theater fundraisers, because it requires minimal set, only 2 actors, and they basically read their lines from letters that they carry onstage with them. So memorization is minimal. The show follows a man and woman as they meet as children, fall in and out of love, cheat on their separate spouses, etc and write letters to each other about it.

    Well, to put a twist on the show, and to allow more actors to participate, the group ran the show over 3 weekends and each weekend they featured a different couple of actors. The first weekend was a senior couple, married in real life, who’d been acting locally for many years; the second weekend was a couple who had actually met through the little theater and recently married, and the third weekend they cast a gay couple, which just happened to be the group’s current president and his partner.

    The senior actor couple, as I said, had a lot of experience in theater and they questioned whether the gay couple should be used, since the play is specifically written for a man & a woman. They were roundly berated by the group’s board, which had several gay members on it, for even bringing that up.  There was even talk of disinviting the senior couple from performing. But it also happened that the author of the show, A.R. Gurney, lived in this area, and the senior couple had met him. Well, they went ahead and contacted him to ask about the situation and he denied the group permission to perform the show with a gay couple.

    Believe me that almost burned down the 200-year-old renovated barn that the group performs in! Of course the senior couple were absolutely right in doing what they did, because artists legally do and should have control over how their work is shown, and should not have it distorted. The group actually could have had legal trouble if they went ahead & performed it that way and it was found out  – but oh boy, you couldn’t tell that to the people who pushed it onto the agenda in the first place, they didn’t want to hear it!

  2. It occurs to me that old age is an equalizer onstage as in life. It’s a painful thing to contemplate, but unless you know them, to younger people old men and old women look pretty much alike.  Glenda Jackson is going to do Lear (or maybe has already).  Well—-give her a crown and a robe, and who’ll even know she’s a woman? ( I hope she plays it as a man, because I don’t think a queen would ever do what Lear did!) That is unless she does the scene on the heath nude.  Ian McKellen did when I saw him as Lear at BAM.  He’s packin’ a footlong….or rather, unpacking it!

  3. Hypatia:
    Can  white actors play black characters?  Yes.  If you don’t believe me, get the movie  Tropic Thunder (2008) where Robert Downey Jr played a white actor playing a black man, who for some reason stayed in character and makeup even when the camera wasn’t rolling.  Nobody even squawked  about it, he was so good!

    Oh, there was squawking a-mighty.  It was all political angst, of course.


  4. Pencilvania, glad to hear the play issue went down the way it did.  The Gay Agenda must always take protests to eleven whenever it comes to them not getting their way in the trashing of our culture.  If people get the feeling that they can resist, it’s Kyle bar the door!

  5. Hypatia:
    Can  white actors play black characters?  Yes.

    Laurence Olivier played Othello on stage to great acclaim, with particular attention to how he walked like a black man.   I think in 1963 or so.

  6. Hypatia:
    A talented actor can play anyone.

    And be convincing. The first time I ever saw Leo DiCaprio in a movie, he was all of 19 yrs old and played a severely mentally handicapped kid in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993. I didn’t know who he was but he was so convincing, I assumed he was playing himself. Too bad Hollywood never again took full advantage of his remarkable acting skills after that film.

    It’s hard to steal scenes from Johnny Depp but that he did.


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