“…than this Provincial life!”
Sorry, I just needed to have my Belle moment. That’s totally not what this post is about. I just adore that score.
Over the past week I saw 3 shows - 2 Broadway and 1 Off-Broadway.
These shows were (in the order I saw them):
The Inheritance Part 1
Now, regardless of how I felt about each of these shows, or how much I did or did not enjoy them individually, they all had something in common per my experience in watching them.
At one point (at least) in every one of these shows I had the thought: “…But must we? This again? Isn’t there more out there? There must be more.”
Allow me to explain.
Enjoyment vs Analysis
Just a quick side note before I dive in.
I think it’s important here to know that I do not think that enjoyment and criticism are mutually exclusive. In fact, I personally believe they go hand in hand.
When someone asks why you didn’t enjoy something, most people are ready with their criticisms handy to defend their positions. But when someone asks me why I did enjoy something, I feel the same way. I like to know why I enjoyed it and be able to explain that to people.
And nothing is perfect. Nor is it a requirement to explain your likes and dislikes. But for me, enjoying something - or even loving something - does not mean that I find it to be perfect or above criticism.
I adore Back To The Future. One of my favorites growing up. But the movie’s got issues, both artistically and socially issues (ie soooo, we’re saying a white man invented rock’n’roll???).
Okay. I know. I’m aware.
Most of the writing spaces and head artistic positions for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are occupied by men. Generally white men. Generally cis, white men. Often even straight, cis, white men.
But in the world we are living in today, does that fact need to translate directly into the stories being told on the stage? At the very least, does it need to feature as prominently across the shows listed in the back of the Playbill as it currently does?
All three shows I just saw focused on cis, white men. And for two of them it was straight, cis, white men.
Now, is this necessarily a problem? No, not necessaaaaarily. But it says something. Actually, it says a lot of things.
Especially considering that the 2 shows featuring straight men were specifically about under-achieving straight, cis, white men who learned relatively shallow lessons and didn’t really end up changing - a genre that has filled our canons of literature, theatre, film, and TV for a very very long time.
Let’s be more specific.
A musical parody adapted from a movie parody of Macbeth.
Main character - Straight, cis, white man.
The guy is an under-achiever according to his wife, even though he’s happy with the life they have and it’s also clear he has aspirations for more, if the opportunity were to present itself.
The wife is played by a black woman and, similar to the Shakespeare play, she exists mostly to prop up the ambitions (or lack thereof) of her husband - even though she is the one who actually wants more and has the stomach to chase after it.
And then she’s scapegoated.
And goes insane. And regrets everything, but isn’t given the capacity to fulfill that character arc. So she must die instead. Of course.
“Classic women, am I right?!”
No. You are not.
So, as this man rises and takes more we are meant to root for him, even though we know he’s doing terrible things. But why? Why this story? Why this story again? Why this story again now without some sizable changes for more relevance? Is it really that interesting today?
It’s not a bad story - it wouldn’t endure otherwise - but there must be more.
The Inheritance Part 1
Full disclaimer: I loved it. I wept. I think it’s doing great work for this generation.
Main characters - All gay, cis, white men. And there are up to 6 main characters in this first part, depending on how you classify the term main character, and all of them fall into this category.
Now, this show is really about interpersonal struggles and relationships, and how that echoes across generations - particularly for the marginalized group that is gay men. It’s also a story about growth, change, hardship, and love. I really do think this play is doing beautiful work.
The remainder of the non-main character cast is mostly non-white, which is really awesome to see. However, so far in this play, the conversation amongst all of these people and characters is about the lives, stories, and struggles of the gay community as seen through white gay male eyes and experiences.
There are black and Latino characters on that stage, but we aren’t even touching their extra layers of struggle and experience. Meanwhile, the play is discussing the future of gay men and where they are potentially headed, as a group with its own vibrant culture. A culture that they even acknowledge to come from appropriations from the drag community, which appropriated from the ballroom community, which consists almost entirely of queer men of color.
This seems like a pretty sizable issue.
The play is focused on worries of continued and intensified marginalization, but it simultaneously has left out a gigantic piece of the conversation about marginalization by leaving out the additional layers of struggle for non-white gay men.
And this is not even to mention that - although other letter of the LGBTQ+ world are mentioned - the focus is entirely on gay men. What about the rest of the community? Isn’t it all the same history? The same inheritance?
Gay men can claim Stonewall all they want (and they do), but transwomen of color threw those bricks.
Gay men can claim the AIDS epidemic, but the affects of that disease were highly striated amongst sub-groups and especially men of color.
I loved this play. I cannot wait for Part 2. But I just kept thinking, “there’s more here.”
There must be more.
Okay, let’s do it. Let’s talk Tootsie.
I’m not going to go too in-depth here, mostly because there is a lot about this show that is well-crafted and plenty of people are enjoying it. And perhaps, for some people in these audiences, this show really does push the envelop in their minds. But we do have to say it…
This show probably should not exist. Not today, anyway.
Main character - Straight, cis, white man who pretends to be a straight, cis, white woman to book a job.
This man is apparently (objectively) talented too, which means he has many a leg-up in the world in comparison to the majority of people around him.
So, what’s keeping him from getting work?
He’s an angry and uncontrolled human who acts out and gets fired, which means he doesn’t retain contacts from his jobs since he burns bridges. And…
He’s getting older. (Like, 40? Is this one really a problem for men in the business? I remain unconvinced.)
Now, here are some merits about this story (stick with me):
A story of a straight, cis, white man who ruins his own chances at a steady and productive life because of his anger…this is relevant. This is extremely relevant. And if the show were about that particular person, their growth, and their personal journey to leave that toxicity behind, well, then we might have a good story here that is relevant to today.
His alter ego - for she does seem to be a character unto herself and completely disassociated from her male counterpart - Dorothy is actually quite a badass woman. She fights against sexism and ageism in a world rampant with it. And if this were a story about an actual woman fighting for these things in this world, this would be an excellent and relevant story.
But alas, this show is ultimately neither of these things.
Here’s what it actually contains:
The man learns lessons - but not enough.
He changes - but does he?
His alter ego is wonderful - but she doesn’t exist.
There’s a fight for and positive messages for women and feminism - but it’s led entirely by a man in a dress.
There’s a fight against ageism - but led by a man, and men don’t seem affected by this in the capacity that women are.
And not to mention the fact that there are some really cringy moments in this show that parade as feminism, ageism, and trans-positive moments, which really aren’t any of those things. Instead, they are part of a plot for this out-of-work man to get - and then retain - his job.
Is this show moving us backward? I don’t think it is. It could have become that, but it didn’t. And for that fact - adapting from a source material “of a different time” - I will tip my hat.
But is it moving us forward? Nope. Not at all. Not in the least.
So, I again ask: “Why this story? Why now? Is there really not more???”
There must be more.
There Is More
Okay, there is. So much more.
But it’s not being put out there into the commercial consciousness. And when it is, it’s not happening fast enough or as prevalently as it needs to.
And I don’t mean to rail against these particular shows - they had the bad luck of being the 3 newer shows that I happened to see within the same 4 days.
There are plenty of positives for them as well:
Scotland, PA had some awesome music.
The Inheritance Part 1 is beautiful and saying some very important things.
Tootsie made me laugh more than most musicals ever do.
But there is still more.
And we need to find it and put it out there. We need to continue moving forward and stop treading water. Let’s celebrate more people - other people.
There are countless good stories to tell, so let’s find them and tell them to the world with the prevalence that has been given to white men. We can, we should, and we will.