Friday, September 14, 2012

More Adventures in Non-Traditional Casting

Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer in
Andrea Arnold's new adaptation of Wuthering Heights

You know how I'm a stickler for non-traditional casting. And sadly, I hardly ever see any examples of it that really knock my socks off. I do not count Shakespeare because if there are any avenues where actors of color get the most roles, it's Shakespeare, which is now commonly reimagined in contemporary, multi-cultural scenarios.

And then I saw a beautiful trailer for a new adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, featuring a black Heathcliff (played by Solomon Glave and James Howson) and directed by Andrea Arnold.

I have to admit, as someone who loves the book (and really, any girl who grew up in any American high school who had to take English lit and has a penchant for bad boys loves Wuthering Heights), my jaw dropped when I saw this new Heathcliff. I thought it was an ingenious example of non-traditional casting, meant to show just how alien Heathcliff really was and to give more realism as to why he and Catherine were kept apart. And after all, the only cinematic Heathcliff I ever saw was Ralph Fiennes in the version with Juliette Binoche so Heathcliff was always white in my mind.

But then I did a quick skimming of the text and found this:

"He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose" - Wuthering Heights

Now the casting makes more sense and I would argue that it's closer to Bronte's original intent. I have to wonder why no one else has ever casted Heathcliff in this way. It would be more on the mark to have casted someone of Indian or Asian descent, because Nelly calls Heathcliff a boy whose "father was Emperor of China, and...mother an Indian queen. But it's definitely an example of casting that is out of the box and different than what has come before (all white men).

And speaking of non-traditional, I stumbled across a recent production of "Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" at Berkeley Playhouse in California. And Vernon Bush, an African-American actor, played Willy Wonka.

credit: Larry Abel

And I have never imagined Willy Wonka looking like that. But that's the beauty of it, and the point. It's possible and does not require any suspension of disbelief.

Though, on a similar vein, I do not know what to make about "Cloud Atlas."

It's ingenious to have Halle Berry play a white woman, among other roles. Or Doona Bae, a Korean actress, play a white woman. But it skirts close to offensive to have Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess play an Asian man. We have had hurtful historic precedence of yellowface and blackface. But whiteface...not so much.

I don't know what to think. What do you think? And are there any other examples of non-traditional casting that has made you go "Oh! I have not thought of that role in that way before, but it makes so much sense now!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

Into the Park (Act II)

My new niece. Doesn't she make you want to pull a Witch and steal a baby?

And we're back...a month later. I have a good explanation for the long absence, I swear. It's called the October 152-page issue of "American Theatre" and a managing editor on maternity leave. And it was also called my sister Thao, who had a baby on August 15, which was the same day as my dad's birthday (who turned 69 this year). "Happy birthday daddy, I got you another granddaughter!"

And speaking of my daddy, my parents also visited for a week and a half to see their new granddaughter. This is grandkid #5 for them and apparently, it doesn't get old.

As for me, I was at the magazine's beck-and-call while at work and my mom's beck-and-call after work. And as for the boyfriend...he's been putting up with the family crazy and baby photos admirably (though he did say "I want 8 of those" when I showed him the above photo of my niece, I hope that's not a hint).

But I am determined to write about (the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park) "Into the Woods" dammit, because it's Sondheim and a large cast (practically unheard of these days) and now that my life is literally filled with children, it's even more appropriate, because children will listen. Which is why I tell my boyfriend not to swear so much in public but unlike my nephews and nieces, he doesn't listen to me.

But now that it's too late for a "is this show worth seeing or not?" type of review, I want to talk more about the show's concept, which is the thing I found most interesting and what I thought I remember most vividly since I saw the musical last month.

Spoilers abound in this analysis so proceed in with caution. Mind the path.