June 20, 2014

David Mamet forces a Milwaukee theater to cancel its production of his play "Oleanna" because it cast a male in a female role.

The Alchemist Theatre must shut down the production after only 1 performance (before which the sex of the "Carol" actor was kept hidden):
"Oleanna," introduced to audiences shortly after the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, centers on the relationship between a professor and a female student who accuses him of harassment and rape....

In a statement issued Friday evening, Erica Case and Aaron Kopec, owners of Alchemist Theatre, said: "We excitedly brought this story to the stage because even though it was written years ago, the unfortunate story that it tells is still relevant today. We auditioned for this show looking for the best talent, not looking for a gender. When Ben Parman auditioned we saw the reality that this relationship, which is more about power, is not gender-specific but gender-neutral. We stayed true to each of David Mamet's powerful words and did not change the character of Carol but allowed the reality of gender and relationship fluidity to add to the impact of the story...."
Do you think Mamet overreacted? I'd like to hear his point of view. This seems heavy handed toward regional theater, but I assume the license has terms and the terms were violated. Why didn't the theater seek permission before committing to this path?

Here's a review of the production:
[First-time director Erin] Eggers made the daring decision to cast a man — Ben Parman — as a transgendered version of Carol. Mamet's script provides support for this; Carol refers to herself at one point as "of some doubtful sexuality" and as having overcome sexual "prejudices" and "humiliations."

All of which explains why Carol might view John's clumsy and paternalistic efforts to help her through gendered glasses. Parman himself takes care of the rest, embodying a Carol whose very body language — stiff, angular and uncomfortable — reflects Carol's fear and fury at an outside world she views as an implacable enemy.
The play (which I've seen in the theater and read) is about the relationship between a male and a female. It's specifically all about the male teacher/female student relationship. If it's about 2 men, it's a different story. There's nothing wrong with telling different stories, bouncing off an old text, and any given production can stand on its own merit, but Mamet owns the rights, and he has control for now. But should he have been more accommodating?

I suspect he's angry that he wasn't asked, but I also think he would have said no, it wrecks his story, and isn't that probably why they didn't ask? You know the old line: "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." But it's an ongoing play, not a done deal.

96 comments:

Paco Wové said...

Good for Mamet.

Like there aren't enough homosexuals in the theater?

Gahrie said...

I bet the director was surprised that Mamet would be willing to challenge his choice in this current climate.

I say we organize a boycott of Mamet, and force anybody associated with him fire him.

Gahrie said...

by the way, Mamet appropriated that play from the Black man. originally the play was about a White slave master and his house slave. But Mamet, a typical White man, stole the idea and changed it to a professor and his student in order to oppress the Black man and cover up his history. He should immedately begin paying reparations.

The Godfather said...

Would Shakespeare have complained about Shakespeare In Love? Would Homer have complained about Joyce's Ulysses? When my first wife (to be) was in an all-girl prep school they put on an all female version of Twelve Angry Men, called Twelve Angry Women. Should Reginald Rose (I had to look that up) have objected?

I have never seen Oleanna. I don't think I had ever heard of it before. It seems to have gotten its 15 minutes of fame back in the '90's by feeding off liberal antipathy to an uppity black man who dared to be a conservative. Mamet should be thankful that his play has briefly wandered, blinking, into the light of public attention, from whence it will immediately wander out.

veni vidi vici said...

With his background, he's probably seen more than his share of wine and cheese party "subversives", and in this instance decided he was having none of it and wouldn't let himself be portrayed to facilitate their little poke in the eye of "society".

It's his prerogative, and for real: let one of them write a play that's being done nearly 30 years later at some regional dorf's theatrical co., instead of trading on his renown for their own hobby-horsing around.

Anonymous said...

They are everywhere.

David said...

The director said: "We stayed true to each of David Mamet's powerful words and did not change the character of Carol but allowed the reality of gender and relationship fluidity to add to the impact of the story...."

Apparently not, since the best judge of that thought differently.

Why did they not ask in advance? Hard to know for sure, but arrogance, carelessness, foolishness and other similar traits come to mind. Maybe they just thought Mamet would not notice.

If Shakespeare were alive today (and had a copyright) what fun he might have with some of the productions which have been mounted of his work.

I am waiting for a white actor to play Othello.

D. said...

david mamet says no to the proggtarded. says yes to intentionalism.

William said...

Some effort was made to cast Blanche Dubois as a male. This happened during Tennessee Williams' lifetime, and he said no way. I think I read somewhere that he left specific instructions in his will that prohibited any gender bending in his plays.......The casting should not be more attention grabbing than the cast or the words of the play.......I'd like to see a version of La Cage Aux Follies cast exclusively with fat women. I believe that it would thus reveal deeper levels of meaning.

Scott said...

David Mamet came out of the closet as a not-liberal in 2008. I wonder if that epiphany colored his view of his 1999 play. Regardless, he probably just enjoys being an asshole. The casting issue gave him the opportunity to express it.

mtrobertsattorney said...

I believe the appropriated play Gahrie mentioned was originally written by a Roman about a Roman Senator and his Slavic slave.

traditionalguy said...

IIR Will Shakespeare always had male actors playing the women's roles in his plays.

Mamet must be too proud to let himself be associated with a production done by an amateur troupe from country towns such as Stratford Upon Avon or Madison Upon Mendota.

Ipso Fatso said...

Mamet is from Chicago, we all hate Wisconsin. Who cares what goes on behind The Cheddar Curtain?

richard mcenroe said...

Playwrights have a unique degree of control and authority over their work, surpassing even that of novelists in many cases.

If he or she wrote it for a female, he can insist both with the authority of both contract and precedent.

And yes, I happen to think pretentious little bourgie directors who 'daringly' regender the work of dead authors like Shakespeare are usually just titillating themselves with epaterizing the bourgoisie they haven't yet climbed out of. See Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" for an hilarious take on this topic.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I'd like to see Glengarry Glen Ross with an all female cast. Second prize is a set of steak knives would take on a whole new meaning. And it should be set in a woman's prison.

richard mcenroe said...

William -- I'm holding out for a version of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" starting Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins and Toby Keith touring drag bars as a straight country group.

Bob Boyd said...

Mamet used his considerable talent to create a vehicle that says X.
Along comes somebody who decides, without consulting Mamet, to carve X out and use Mamet's vehicle to say Y.
If they want a play that says Y they are free to write one...only they can't because they're not Mamet.
Its basically plagiarism.

Chubfuddler said...

Samuel Beckett tried to prevent the casting of women as Vladimir and Estragon in "Waiting for Godot":

From the Wikipedia entry on "Godot":

Beckett was not open to most interpretative approaches to his work. He famously objected when, in the 1980s, several women's acting companies began to stage the play. "Women don't have prostates", said Beckett, a reference to the fact that Vladimir frequently has to leave the stage to urinate.

In 1988, Beckett took a Dutch theatre company, De Haarlemse Toneelschuur to court over this issue. "Beckett [...] lost his case. But the issue of gender seemed to him to be so vital a distinction for a playwright to make that he reacted angrily, instituting a ban on all productions of his plays in The Netherlands." This ban was short-lived, however: in 1991 (two years after Beckett's death), "Judge Huguette Le Foyer de Costil ruled that the production would not cause excessive damage to Beckett's legacy", and the play was duly performed by the all-female cast of the Brut de Beton Theater Company at the prestigious Avignon Festival.

The Italian Pontedera Theatre Foundation won a similar claim in 2006 when it cast two actresses in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon, albeit in the characters' traditional roles as men. At the 1995 Acco Festival, director Nola Chilton staged a production with Daniella Michaeli in the role of Lucky.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

"Would Shakespeare have complained about Shakespeare In Love? Would Homer have complained about Joyce's Ulysses?"

Does Mamet have to do everything that Shakespeare and Joyce do?

No.

Mamet is Mamet. He can complain how he wants to complain.

chickelit said...

The Godfather said...
Would Shakespeare have complained about Shakespeare In Love?

Who knows? Would he have complained about "Romeo & Julio"?

chickelit said...

traditionalguy said...
IIR Will Shakespeare always had male actors playing the women's roles in his plays.

That's not the point, TG. Not at all. Can you see that?

eddie willers said...

Like there aren't enough homosexuals in the theater?

Q. How many strait actors does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. Both of them.

RonF said...

traditionalguy, Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing that the female parts would be cast using men. That wasn't his choice. In his day and age women were not allowed to pursue stage acting. And unlike this production of Mamet they were playing as women, not men. There was no intent on Shakespeare's part to portray male/female relationships as anything else.

Scott, how is Mamet being an asshole here? Someone decides to warp the point of his play by making absurd claims about what the significance of the sex of the people in the relationships in his play means, and he says "No, you're wrong." Good for him.

RonF said...

traditionalguy, Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing that the female parts would be cast using men. That wasn't his choice. In his day and age women were not allowed to pursue stage acting. And unlike this production of Mamet they were playing as women, not men. There was no intent on Shakespeare's part to portray male/female relationships as anything else.

Scott, how is Mamet being an asshole here? Someone decides to warp the point of his play by making absurd claims about what the significance of the sex of the people in the relationships in his play means, and he says "No, you're wrong." Good for him.

Unknown said...

"Do you think Mamet overreacted?"

No. They changed the focus of the story.

el polacko said...

@david: orson welles played othello in 1952...and laurence olivier performed the role in 1965.

SJ said...

@traditionalguy,

I don't think women were common in acting during the time of Will Shakespeare.

But you're right. The Globe often featured pre-pubescant boys in the role of women. Which probably made it easier to do the woman-dresses-up-as-man scenes from some of Shakespeare's comedies.

SteveBrooklineMA said...

So they still had the character female? They just cast a guy in the role? The Journal story is so vaguely written I can't even tell. If that's the case, then I think Mamet over-reacted. *Way* over-reacted, in fact. It seems about as silly as objecting to a Chinese guy playing Othello. It's called "acting."

bgates said...

I find the rampant speciesism on display here dismaying. 27 comments in and I'm the first to suggest The Taming of the Shrew with an actual rodent in the title role.

David said...

I recall a San Francisco theater casting a black woman as Bob Cratchit's wife in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Needless to say, the experiment failed on many levels.

Unknown said...

gender and relationship fluidity

No such thing exists.

traditionalguy said...

I understand Mamet's ego. But it is too easy to ridicule.

He traded a chance to get his play heard in public by a quality audience and "interpreted" by creative minds of excellent young actors for a petulant Diva like control of "his work his way or no way."

So the Elizabethan ways were irrelevant...but that was poetic license.

Michael K said...

I was in London in 1977 when a small theater staged a version of "Faust" in which Helen of Troy was portrayed by a male (a very effeminate one).

Goethe would not have been pleased. The audience began to laugh part way through the sex scene, which was pretty tame in 1977, and the rest walked out. Today, I would expect an award.

Andrew Koenig said...

I just found that a California real-estate association published a brochure that used six of my photographs without permission or credit. If they had asked, I probably would have given it to them for free. But having learned about their use of my work after the fact, I would shut them down completely if I could.

mikesixes said...

Traditionalguy-he traded a chance to get his play heard in public...
I don't think David Frickin' Mamet is so desperate to have his 25 year old play seen-in Milwaukee-that he should be willing to allow the local troupe to alter it in so fundamental a way. It's his play. I presume there is a license agreement that gives him the right to pull the plug on the production if he considers the company's interpretation to be false. Once they changed the title character's gender, they stopped doing Mamet's play and started doing something else. He has a right to stop them from doing their own play and presenting it as his.

Anonymous said...

When you have written a story so good that someone wants to act it upon a stage, and that someone without permission wants to change what you regard as an important element of the story, then you can have an opinion as to whether a your reaction is appropriate or over-.

Likewise if someone should take from you one of your toes. Others' opinions of the quality and uniqueness of the toe do not matter. Only your own opinion counts.

Judith said...

"I have never seen Oleanna. I don't think I had ever heard of it before. It seems to have gotten its 15 minutes of fame back in the '90's by feeding off liberal antipathy to an uppity black man who dared to be a conservative." (The Godfather at 9:10 p.m.)

I don't know about the Clarence Thomas connection, but Oleanna was well-reviewed and is widely performed in regional/community theatre. So, no, not "15 minutes of fame."

I'm reading this as the male actor was playing Carol as transgendered female - had been male, was becoming or had become female, hope I'm saying that right. In that case, although I think Mamet has the right to do this, I think I disagree with his judgment. The male/female and student/teacher power differential is still there as written in the play, but with an additional twist.

n.n said...

What cause did the theater have to deprive a woman of an opportunity to act?

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Tie goes to the writer. They can't as a rule earn a living wage but let's at least give them that: Tie goes to the writer.

Unknown said...

A couple of years ago I saw Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with several of the male roles played by women, including Caesar, in a dress and high-heeled shoes. For me, that decision weakened an otherwise excellent production. one can only guess whether Shakespeare would have objected.
David in Cal

Anonymous said...

"but Mamet owns the rights, and he has control for now."

Does he "sort of" own the rights? Or does he own the rights.

"Control for now.."

Is misleadingly ambiguous.

Or something is left unsaid here, and needs further elaboration. Is there an implied time limitation on the author's control of his play?

Quaestor said...

el polacko wrote: Orson Welles played Othello in 1952...and Laurence o\Olivier performed the role in 1965.

Here's Welles in 1952. He's definitely darkish, and his hair has been fro'ed, so Welles is being very conventional with the character, at least in the 20th century. (In David Garrick's time they just stuck a garish turban on Othello's head and skipped the blackface) And here is Olivier in '65 Much darker, almost a liver-lipped minstrel show treatment. It's amazing he got away with it, but then Olivier had all the right opinions. Here he is with the same makeup applied to a different character. Notice the contact lenses over his grey eyes.

In the case of Othello the point is there's little reason to reserve the role for a black actor. Being black does help, in a rather cheap sort of way, to establish Othello's anxiety over his otherness -- the reason why Iago finds it so easy to deceive him. However, there's no unequivocal text that demands a negro in the role; it's just become expected. Unconventionality is at least as good an argument for a white guy as Othello as it is an argument for a man in the role of Carol, though I doubt Milwaukee would tolerate such a production.

The Alchemists Theatre -- Wow, the name alone should give one pause. These regional semi-pro theatrical companies have gotten as loopy and off-kilter with their names as mini-estate vineyards have with their wines labels. I find the more silly and un-oenological the label the less remarkable the drink inside turns out to be. The same appears true with dramatics -- Anyway, by cross-casting Carol they think they're being daring and transgressive, when in truth they are only being conformist.

Mamet is well within his rights to protect his work as long as it remains his to protect. Besides, interpretation is the prerogative of the audience, directors who force an interpretation by changing or deleting text, or switching the sex of a character (Capsule descriptions of characters are usually in the text, btw, just peruse any Samuel French or Dramatist Play Service script and see.) are stealing the rights of the audience as well as the playwright.

Anonymous said...

They do the same thing to a high school production of Oklahoma that goes off the ranch

Quaestor said...

27 comments in and I'm the first to suggest The Taming of the Shrew with an actual rodent in the title role.

Speaking for all rodents I must demand a retraction. Shrews are eutherians, not rodents! That said there was a famous Petruccio performed by a gerbil in a production by Royal Company of Katmandu back in 1926 which was well received, so an real soricomorph as Kate might be acceptable after all.

MathMom said...

Clearly the US Patent Office should get involved, strip Mamet of his property rights because of his hurtful and divisive attitude.

bobby said...

" . . . a petulant Diva like control of "his work his way or no way.""
- - -

I note that you did recognize that it was "his work."

How very nice of you.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Why didn't the theater seek permission before committing to this path?

Perhaps the presenters are a pack of pretentious "progressive" pricks. It is, after all, Madison WI. (The spelling there is "Theatre" BTW, vice "Theater.")

That would explain the in-your-face conceit.

Or it could be by pre-arrangement with the Mamet for a kick in publicity - we'll see if the play is allowed to re-open.

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tim maguire said...

I don't see what Mamet's problem is. Community Theatres do weird things to plays all the time. They tend to have low budgets and questionable talent, the license to take liberties helps them stay interesting and relevant.

donald said...

What do you mean by quality audience?

PB Reader said...

it's his intellectual property and he can license it as he sees fit. he's also allowed to pursue those who violate his property or licensing agreements.

If the folks in Milwaukee are brimming with such creative ideas how come they can't write their own play?

Lee Reynolds said...

Transsexuals are the new black it would seem.

The people who altered the play and turned it into a transsexual agitprop piece knew better.

sydney said...

My first thought was, "Of course they shouldn't change the gender of a character. The playwright created that character. He has much creative energy vested in his characters, and the play revolves around the qualities of the characters he created." But then, I remembered the play/movie "Front Page." It was reworked by Howard Hawks as "His Girl Friday" with the reporter character changed to a woman. IMHO "His Girl Fridy" is a much better work than either of the "Front Page" movies I've seen (Adolph Menjou version or Walter Mathau version.

St. George said...

Reminds me of the production I saw of "King Lear" in which Lear was a medieval Japanese emperor and of the "Lear" production I saw set in a post-apocalypic fascist future.

Both dreadful.

MaxedOutMama said...

As to whether he should have or not, I defer to the author's feelings on the matter. I don't know the play.

Certainly harassment can occur irrespective of gender, but I doubt the matter generally plays out the same way. If the author felt that this twisted his play out of its socket, I think he both had the legal right to nix it and the ethical right to nix it.

The dishonesty involved tends to skew my perspective toward the author on this issue.

Jim ASA64 said...

David Mamet changed his political viewpoint about 5 years ago. Calling himself a former "dead brained liberal," he has converted to a conservative view. His current writing for all outlets and what treatment he will accept of his earlier work shows through in this incident. Good for him.

Anonymous said...

They are quite obviously lefties.

Lefties are not concerned with property rights, licensing, and the rule of law unless it suits their desires.

So pragmatically speaking, given his opponents, whether Mamet is using the rule of law, or hoisting them on their own petard is a distinction without a difference.

They need to suck it up and move on.

Bill Adams said...

The Godfather says: "I have never seen Oleanna. I don't think I had ever heard of it before. It seems to have gotten its 15 minutes of fame back in the '90's by feeding off liberal antipathy to an uppity black man who dared to be a conservative. Mamet should be thankful that his play has briefly wandered, blinking, into the light of public attention, from whence it will immediately wander out."

Uh, I don't know what play you're confusing it with (maybe you're taking Gahrie's joke seriously?), but it's a pretty well-known play that has nothing to do with race. It does have to do with sex, down to the blood and marrow, and if you reverse the sex of one character and not the other, the whole point of the thing is lost, in a way that would not be when a girl's school does Twelve Angry Women. If he doesn't want them to trash his play, he doesn't have to.

Cloudbuster said...

"Would Homer have complained about Joyce's Ulysses?"

I don't know about Homer, but Joyce and the Joyce foundation were/are very particular about how his work is used. It took Kate Bush nearly 25 years to finally get permission to excerpt passages of Ulysses for her song The Sensual World. Prior to that the song was written with her own lyrics in the style of Molly's soliloquy (Incidentally, I actually think what she wrote is superior, for the purposes of the song).

The Crack Emcee said...

Mamet's an asshole.

Ann Althouse said...

""Control for now.." Is misleadingly ambiguous. Or something is left unsaid here, and needs further elaboration. Is there an implied time limitation on the author's control of his play?"

Eventually, a copyright expires and the work is in the public domain at which point, these limitations will be gone.

(70 years after Mamet dies.)

Crimso said...

"I'd like to see Glengarry Glen Ross with an all female cast."

Not possible. "Bossy" ist verboten.

CWJ said...

"Control for now" because copyrights expire 70 after his death.

Actually, as a practical matter, Mamet himself loses control well before that. Say perhaps exactly at his death.

You may as well describe him as alive "for now."

Sometimes Althouse appears to live a little too deeply in the legal world rather than the world of the breathing.

Freeman Hunt said...

I would have done the same thing. If he wants to write a play about transexuals, he'll write one. He spent time artistically rendering these characters and relationships. He would have written it differently with a transexual character.

Strick said...

Fun thread. I guess I respect Mamet's property rights, but think the interpretation could be interesting and it happens all the time in all sorts of art.

I'm much more offended by specifics of Leonard Bernstein's early interpretations of Beethoven's 9th than this, but hey, it was a legitimate twist on the original. (Vienna, 1989 is sublime.)

Art is exploration, play. Let 'em play.

MathMom said...

"Mamet's an asshole."

Wow! I never thought of it that way before. I think that is the root of the problem, after all!

Anonymous said...

I think folks here don't know what "transgendered" means. This wasn't a case of casting a man as a woman and playing that character as a female. This wasn't the case even of rewriting the play to have a male student and a male professor.

Taking a story about how men and women relate to each other and with sex and replacing the woman with a character who is a freak is not telling the same truths.

traditionalguy said...

I surrender.

Mamet is a noble idealist who owns his own unique noble ideal works. Protecting such a man is all life is truly about. The only question remaining is whether we 97% admirers can ever be forgiven for the crude inferiority of overlooking the other 3% of complete Mamet noble greatness and daring to taking His name in vain.

Titus said...

I love Mamet's daughter in Girls.

tits.

sydney said...

I am having trouble understanding exactly what they did to this Carol character. Did they make Carol a man? As in this is Carol, he was born a boy and raised to young manhood. Or, was Carol born a girl but decided she was a man later on in life? So confusing! And this is a play about people who are confused by language.

Fritz said...

"The Crack Emcee said...
Mamet's an asshole."

Of course, any one who resists the liberal elite's program is an asshole.

Unknown said...

What does this mean for "Hair Spray"?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairspray_(1988_film)

Chris Lopes said...

"I am waiting for a white actor to play Othello."

The first hundred years or so of its existence, that's the way the play was performed.

Jon Burack said...

I can see Mamet being annoyed that this distracts from the play itself by its adoption of what may get touted as oh-so cutting edge daring, when it in fact is just fashionable and has nothing to do with the play itself. On the other hand, Mamet may be smart enough to realize a bit of knee-jerk hand wringing over his "homophobia" might get some good p.r. attention to the play again. Who knows? I would like to see his play, from what I have read in the past about it, but am unlikely to want to see this version and be distracted constantly by this irrelevant issue.

I once saw a Shakespeare play that was down in U.S. Civil War style, with lots of blues and grays running around. It was very distracting and silly - and as you can see I cannot even remember what the play itself was.

Some Seppo said...

I'm waiting for the remake of Saving Private Ryan with an all-female cast. Should be boffo!

jeannets said...

I know someone who was associated with this production and I can tell you that not a word of dialogue was changed. Also it was a male actor playing a woman. The character was not changed to a man, or a transgendered person. Theatre has never been about one single viewpoint. If a writer wants complete control I think he should be writing books, which stand alone. Should a playwright be able to demand DNA samples from every actor cast in his play? What if the character of Carol in this production had been played by a 65 year old woman? What if a playwright decides a particular actor is too tall, too fat, or not the "right" race. Apparently the courts have decided differently, but I think once a play is out there, the playwright has rights to the words and nothing else.

wildswan said...

I'd like to see a good play about Madison. You could have that street with all the local farmers and the causebots; and then scenes in the capital; and then scenes with pajama boy who was there disguised as a young man. Conservatives being shouted down by "liberals." Scenes from a classroom as another generation of African-Americans gets crushed (Crack could be an itinerant intermittent chorus) Scenes from the Black Hawk War sort of cloudily move across the back till the end (The Black Hawk was centered on the lakes so Black Hawk could be there as a women).. The end could be an accidental massacre by drones due to a misinterpretation by BigData linkage software of the latest results of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Studies being done in Madison. The attack mushrooms into world wide destruction which ironically no one survives but several transgenders in Madison. The transgenders have to decide whether to go against nature and have children or let it all end. Speeches. The vote begins; so does the snow. Curtain. (Is "curtain" symbolic or just tradition?)

Why bother with Mamet when all that rich material exists in Madison?

Rusty said...

I thought "Ran" was pretty good.

Victor Erimita said...

No one is more blockheadedly conformist than a "progressive." And no progressive is more blockheadedly conformist than an artist posing as edgy and relevant. What could be a more drearily routine today than forcing every free idea into the corral of gender obsession? Maybe it's that so many gay people are in the theater and the arts. Maybe it's that hetero "progressives" have to show their bona fides by toeing the line of the week. But the personal confusions and tribulations of a small minority of the population now dominate entertainment and the arts. "Gender issues" are not the obsessive concern of most people, notwithstanding the projections of the agitated few for whom that is evidently the case.

My guess is that Mamet wasn't about to let the progressive conformists use his play as yet another vehicle for proselytizing their current obsession.

Unknown said...

Good for David Mamet. This took courage.

Joanne Jacobs said...

I saw the ACT performance of Christmas Carol with a black Mrs. Cratchit. It was fine. Since then, I've seen many performances with racially blind casting. It's no big deal if the play isn't about race relations.

I also saw the Japanese Macbeth at Ashland and thought it was spectacular.

And I saw Laurence Oliver "blacked up" to play Othello in the movie. It was controversial at the time.

BTW, Mamet is not an uppity black man. He's an uppity Jew.

I think he should have told the Milwaukee theater to explain the decision to make Carol a man (woman who became a man?) so the audience will know this isn't his original version. Closing it down seems churlish.

MaxedOutMama said...

The "Oleanna" script is here:
http://staff.bcc.edu/faculty_websites/jalexand/Mamet--Oleanna.htm

I found after reading it that I agreed with the author. I was most confused about the description of this play as being about power. I don't think it is about power. I think it is about a sense of powerlessness generating anger which leads to the desire to destroy.

I have to say that making Carol a transgender person is slander of transgenders, and doesn't work for me.

richard mcenroe said...

Until recently I worked for a publisher of plays. The language in the performance license granted for each work is explicit: NO changes to be made without the author's permission, or publisher's as delegated by the author.

This is pretty much the industry standard. Bringing in Shakespeare, when women were forbidden by law to act, is irrelevant. The point is that in theatre, the author retains an ultimate creative authority over his work long since lost in film and television, and increasingly diminished in modern publishing with the growth of packaged works.

The theatre company was in the wrong to do what it did, and wrong again in failing to secure the author's permission beforehand. Wrong, and unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

tim maguire said:

"I don't see what Mamet's problem is. Community Theatres do weird things to plays all the time. They tend to have low budgets and questionable talent, the license to take liberties helps them stay interesting and relevant."

Hey Tim, I have a low budget and questionable talent, let me have your bank account number so I can take liberties with it. I also need your address so I can come by and take liberties with your possessions, so I can stay interesting and relevant.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Ray Bradbury wrote a forward to an anniversary edition of "Farenheit 451" in which he describes a similar situation. He had received a copy of a draft abridgement of "451", intended for a high school, in which the bad language and sex (such as there was) had been diked out. The sender was (at least) asking for permission to publish, and gushing about how the book was now, finally, suitable for a wider and younger readership.
I don't recall exactly what Bradbury replied, but I'm pretty sure the abridger is still, to this day, defecating from a second anus.
Talk about missing the point...

Andrew Shimmin said...

They're replacing Oleanna with theater in the square. Then, this winter, summer stock.

Oleanna was made into a movie. William H. Macy plays the teacher, Debra Eisenstadt the student. It's excellent.

JM Hanes said...

MOMA hung Guernica upside down, and when Picasso objected, the Museum defended their choice by saying that, even though he had painted it years ago, they had stayed true to the colors he had used and added to the impact of his work. Picasso still insisted that it must be displayed right side up. Should he have been more accommodating?

When the Alchemists claim that Ben Parman's talent blew them away and made them see the play in a whole new light, it seems worth noting that they had obviously already decided to audition a man for the role. If you want to make such a "daring" choice, best wait till the author is too dead to care what you do to his work.

sydney said...

OK. I read the script and tried to imagine Carol as a man. I have to say, some parts made me laugh right out loud. The story simply doesn't work if a man is playing Carol. Mamet was right to protest.

Jason said...

The gays turned theater into a laughingstock in the 80s and 90s when every goddamned play turned out to be about AIDS. I used to go to a lot of plays then and it was fecking ridiculous.

Everything is about their dicks and their victimhood.

All of those plays were forgettable and justly forgotten. Though I did get to see Kenneth Mars in one!

SukieTawdry said...

I once saw a delightful television production of Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. The actors cast as Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, one of the wicked stepsisters and the Queen were black. The Prince was Filipino. The rest of the main characters were played by white actors.

I think any play that's entered the realm of "classic" (be it Shakespeare or Thornton Wilder or Tennessee Williams or the Grimm Bros.) can be done with race neutral casting.

Gender bending, however, is a whole other matter and the play becomes something different than what was intended by the playwright. That's not necessarily bad, but neither is it intrinsically good. And seldom is it as "daring" or "audacious" or "cutting-edge" as the director would have it.

In any event, it's Mamet's play and he can attach whatever conditions to its production he wishes.

Anonymous said...

I'm the artistic director for a small regional theater, and we do only older plays. Non-traditional casting is sometimes legit, sometimes not. It usually is a technical violation of the licensing agreement, but if the company isn't high profile, it will usually slide when the playwright is dead. Such a change is still an artistic breach of the author's intent if it substantially changes the play. "Twelve Angry Women" is a disgrace, for example: the drama is about 12 males in a box, and they are male characters. Reginald Rose told me he would have blocked such productions, but at the time he didn't own the rights to the stage version. When the play is about gender issues, as Oleanna is, changing the sex of the main character is insane without getting permission. Try that crap with Edward Albee, for example, and he will shut you down every time. It's Mamet's play. If you want to tell a different story, write your own.

Pianoman said...

Rental companies are serious about works being presented as the author intends. In musicals, typically the language says something like "You are allowed to make minor changes as long as you do not change the intent of the composer", or something like that. It's pretty clear that, in this case, the theater company deliberately withheld this information because they knew they'd be shot down. They played it the only way they could -- they had hoped Mamet would cave under pressure. No such luck guys - SX2BU.

I did a production of Sondheim's "Assassins" at a community college once. The music director decided that he wanted to add the song "Something Just Broke", which was part of the London production. However, it was not part of the "licensed" production ... and he didn't ask permission in advance. Our production was nearly cancelled, but fortunately for us, MTI allowed our production to continue. In this case, the addition to the musical came from a previous production, so we didn't consider it "a substantial difference". However, the rental company did not agree with our assessment.

In this case, casting a man playing a tranny in the role of a woman ... hard to see that as anything other than "WE WANT TO BE EDGY, SCREW THE PLAYWRIGHT".

Pianoman said...

Someone(s) mentioned "12 Angry Men". I was in a production of that play in junior high, and we had 3 girls in it. So we called it "12 Angry Jurors". Nobody cared.

Jim Lane said...

I'm astonished at the number of commenters here who just don't get it. The goodness or badness of the casting idea, and anybody's opinion of Mamet for what he's done -- much less dragging Shakespeare or Homer or Joyce into it -- is all utterly beside the point. Mamet owns the play. Any production of it is subject to his -- and only his -- approval. His heir(s) will be in the same position until he's been 70 years in the ground. Period. End of discussion.

Richard McEnroe is exactly right: the theater company was entirely in the wrong, and unprofessional. What's more, they knew it; they tried to pull a fast one, and they got busted. Now, it seems to me, they're trying play the victim here and make Mamet out to be a bully. Doubly unprofessional. Mamet would be well within his rights if he blackballed that theater from producing any of his plays, ever. He owns those too.

Jason said...

I wouldn't trust that producer, director or assistant director with ever touching anything under my byline, that's for sure.

I'd be open to ideas if they had asked beforehand.

Pianoman: To my eyes, "minor changes as long as they don't change the intent of the composer" generally means transposing keys to suit a singer's voice. Something we did in my (brief) career as a theater orchestra musician quite a bit. I don't recall making any other changes of any significance, other than correcting score errors (i.e., a copyist's mistake or a mismatch in the number of bars of rest, etc.)

southcentralpa said...

For whomever asked, the most modern and relevant white guy playing Othello was when Patrick Stewart played Othello with a Black supporting cast. (Shakespere Theatre Company 1997)