Playing it straight

I’ve been enjoying the debate and discussions over Ramin Setoodeh’s article about Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises and gay actors playing straight characters. His whole premise seems to come down to a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s shallow and ridiculous, and it’s another example of a reviewer not reviewing what he saw but reviewing whether or not what he saw was what he expected.

But I don’t want to rehash the logic, or lack thereof, of his article. Instead I just want to share two thoughts I’ve had about this whole debate. Setoodeh’s idea of how our personal knowledge of an actor’s life can’t help but inform and impact a performance has some truth to it, but only if one looks for it. Typically, that kind of behind the scenes information will not impact a response to a performance, and generally is only a titillating side story along the lines of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, husband and wife in real life, playing George and Martha in Virginia Woolf.

Ok..not the best comparison, but perhaps you get the idea.

Truthfully though, many gay actors play straight characters, very successfully and without question. Probably more often than many people realize. As many people have said, it’s called acting and it requires a bit of conviction. And what about the opposite? I’ve seen many straight actors play gay characters on stage, with complete believability regarding their love interest along with some great chemistry with that other, sometimes straight, actor. In fact, I’ll admit that I once directed an actor who I was concerned was “too straight” for the gay character I’d cast him as. I was wrong. And his “straightness” didn’t impede his performance, or hinder him from doing the work,  and didn’t lessen anyone’s enjoyment of it. Because he was acting.

Why Setoodeh can’t understand this, or can’t recognize his own flawed logic, is beyond me.

And finally, what about two gay actors, of opposite sexes, playing a flirtatious scene? I wonder if Setoodeh caught this week’s episode of Glee, and what he thought of Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch’s scene where their arguing turned to lust? It was campy and funny and a bit over the top (which is what the show does) but did the fact that they’re both gay make it unbelievable or not work in some way? No. Because they were two actors committing to the moment and the part and character.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this whole incident is that a reputable publication like Newsweek would publish such an unsophisticated, poor piece. And by doing so they reinforced the shallowness of today’s pop culture and helped raise the importance of such unimportant things like whether or not an actor is gay.


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