Who is Sophie Loren?
Is she the Arabian mistress of an Arabian oil millionaire?
Or is she a Jewish spy?
In 1966, she appeared in two movies, “Arabesque,” in which she was the Arabian, and “Judith,” in which she was the Jewess. (1)
And in the following year, Signorina Loren ascended to the Russian nobility in “A Countess from Hong Kong.”
Back to 1966. In early January, the following advertisement appeared in The New Yorker:
The English theatrical knight Sir Laurence Olivier was to be the Black Moor leader of the Venetian military. Despite some achingly bad reviews (2), Sir Laurence was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards (he didn’t win).
Fast forward to the present.
According to the BBC,
The days of "cripping up" - a term disabled actors regularly use to describe those with no physical impairment playing disabled characters - appear numbered now. (3)
This in a report that a disabled actor will take on the role of Richard III in a production of Shakespeare’s play at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The actor selected to play the 15th Century villain, Arthur Hughes, said,
I think a lot of disabled actors will think playing Richard is their birthright.
Should homosexual actors think that playing gay characters is their birthright?
Recently, in the New York Times, Tom Hanks addressed the question “could a straight man do what I did in ‘Philadelphia’ now?” His answer was “No, and rightly so.” He went on to explain:
I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy. It’s not a crime, it’s not boohoo, that someone would say we are going to demand more of a movie in the modern realm of authenticity. (4)
But as The New Yorker recently pointed out, “Last year . . . introduced an octogenarian Hamlet: Sir Ian McKellen.” (5)
Now, if in the name of “authenticity,” a gay actor—rather than Hanks—should play the part of Andrew Beckett, what “authenticity” are we looking at when it’s acceptable for English gay octogenarian McKellen to play a young heterosexual Dane? Or, as the same New Yorker article pointed out,
The casting of a female Hamlet . . . is now conventional enough not to raise eyebrows.
Somehow lost in all these “authenticity” debates about casting is the fact that the theater is not about “authenticity”; in its very essence, the the theater is about fakery—the show is all pretense. The actors are not the characters—and the characters are not real.
The world of the theater is a corrective to the world of life; characters are shot, immolated, poisoned, etc.—and yet everybody lives to take a curtain call.
In turn, real life is better than the world of art. We feel, we love, we change. We can be “authentic.”
Mulling over the problem of “authenticity” in the realm of the the performing arts, we here at drnormalvision have come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve “authenticity” is to have everyone play him/herself. That would place performance beyond the bounds of criticism. The only problem is a major one, however. What we would be left with is a landscape filled with reality shows.
Imagine a world of Kardashian-lites.
(1) And in “Judith,” Peter Finch plays the head of a kibbutz!
(2) In The New Yorker, Brendan Gill’s “chief complaint” about the movie was “Sir Laurence’s utterly daft reading of the title role.” (Feb . 19, 1966)
What Bosley Crowther, in the New York Times, found “most distressing” was “Sir Laurence’s allowing himself to look like a white actor made up in blackface for a minstrel show.” (March 6, 1966)