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.