A Queer to Cheer or Jeer At; Or, “A Gay” (Mentioned) in Every Play continued

A Queer to Cheer or Jeer At; Or, “A Gay” (Mentioned) in Every Play continued

A week ago, I wrote a post in which I suggested that every play I read or see these days contains a gay or lesbian character.  I continue to question whether or not this is a sign of true progress or a new trend in tokensim.  Yes, greater visibility is crucial to achieving equality, particularly for the lesbian population that has historically been less vocal and visibile than the gay male population, but is all visibility good visibility?  Not really, if you ask me, not if it’s propelled by stereotypes. 

Yesterday’s NYT features a very positive review by Charles Isherwood of Melissa James Gibson’s new play This, which, incidentally, contains a gay character. According to Isherwood, who actually devotes two  paragraphs to ‘Alan’ and Glenn Fitzgerald’s portrayal of him, this role does not suffer from the stereotyping we’ve come to expect:

“Mr. Fitzgerald’s tense, closed in performance cuts through any potential cliches in this mildly familiar character: the bitter, boozy, loveless gay best friend, ever ready with a wisecrack. And Ms. Gibson’s writing for him is full of aphorisms that hit home.  ‘Why are you sitting in the almost dark? asks Jane when she comes home to find the baby sitting-Alan drenched in shadow. ‘It’s the human condition, Jane, in case you haven’t noticed,’ he replies briskly.

A little while later he answers Jane’s casual questions of why he’s in such a funk with a gorgeous riff that captures both his touching romanticism and his sinking self-esteem. ‘I spend the better part of my life waiting for a wakeup call,’ he says.  ‘You know, the thing that will make everything come into focus and that I can point to later when I’m writing my memoir.'” 

I hope to see This this week, ha, so I’ll judge Alan for myself. But hopefully, Isherwood is correct, and Alan is, indeed, a gay stage representation to cheer at, not jeer at.

Also, in my previous my post, I forgot to address the plays in which homosexuality figures in some capacity without actually containing gay or lesbian roles; Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw is one such example.  In the wake of the family patriarch’s death, mother and daughter Susan and Susanna are informed that the man of the house actually preferred men, or one man rather, his Japanese accountant, Yoshi.  Both S’s deal similarly with the news, insisting that sometimes it’s better not to know the whole truth about those you love. Some will interpret this as respect for privacy; others will call this denial. 

**For those interested, there is a course entitled “Homosexuality and the American Stage” being taught this spring at the University of Minnesota, and there is an open facebook group for the course…just search the title…

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Comments
2 Responses to “A Queer to Cheer or Jeer At; Or, “A Gay” (Mentioned) in Every Play continued”
  1. Kate T.W. says:

    This is interesting. I am reminded of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination which analyzes how famous white American writers have depicted black characters, and the shorthand that blackness affords. Not all of the stereotypes are obviously racist. For example, blackness is often depicted in classic works as having the attribute of being more spiritual or mystic. Morrison talks a lot about appropriation. That would seem to be the key for me, as you indicate with your concern over the ‘bitter loveless’ friend in This. Does he have real motivation, or is he just there as a contrast?

  2. nstodard says:

    Kate,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not familiar with the work you mention by Morrison, but it does sound like an interpretive model that could be applied to other historically disenfranchised groups, such as the LGBT population.

    I find stereotypes very interesting because of how they develop over time, like layers of sediment, and also because of their power. I agree with you that not all stereotypes are racist/homophobic/sexist. This makes me think about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, who has for decades now been a gay icon. His witty, paradoxical use of language has become a trademark of 20th and now 21st century gay male identity, yet to assume that all gay men wield words like Wilde or even enjoy his verbal style is on par with assuming all black people can dance. But more often than not, plays, movies, etc. depict gay men precisely this way, privileging style over substance, puns over personal depth. Of course, some queer theorists would argue that subversive style trumps conventional notions of substance.

    What you say about appropriation sounds a bit like what I have in mind when I speak of tokenism, someone depicting an oppressed group in a way that serves their ends, even if it be as seemingly innocent as wanting a play to appear edgy, hip, pc, timely by including a gay, lesbian, etc. character…because this too often results in stereotypical characterization.

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