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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Review of "Stumps"

My latest review for nytheatre.com is up here. It is of the recent production of Mark Medoff's play "Stumps" by Nicu's Spoon.

If you've seen the production or know the companies work, feel free to post comments on the review below.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I know the script and the companies work and see nowhere in the script where it says the character of Calvin Rhodes is white. It IS possible that an Indian man could grow up in Miami, his Dad could own a car dealership and he could be racist (do you think Indians are all like Ghandi? There is a huge anti-negro sentiment in India and as many Indians are muslim there is a huge anti-Jewish sentiment as well). I think it was your own perception of race that caused you problems seeing the Indian actor (who I think was amazing!) playing the role. This is part of what this company does - make people re-think preconceived notions of others that they may not even be aware they have. This makes me think you would not have liked 'To Kill a Mockingbird' where they deliberately re-cast it in 5 nationalities. I also found myself curious as to why you mentioned the signers and how well they were worked into the action but then failed to review their performances- only reviewing the 'actors' who were speaking. Again, I saw the show and think I could easily give a sentence to each co-performer and their work, rather than lumping them together as 'the signers'. I don't mean to be rude - just really wanted to point out that this is what the company does, catches us unaware of ways we may marginalize others without even thinking...........

Freeman said...

Fair enough and thanks for the considered response.

I have no problem with recasting nationalities for the most part, I just feel that when it's done, it doesn't always automatically work. Recasting a nationality arbitrarily does not instantly make it a profound statement about race.

When casting "Reverend Calvin Rhodes, who wishes he were a Nazi and lives in Texas" as a non-white, the company is taking the risk of taking the audience out of the action of the play. Sometimes this risk can pay off: I was in a performance of Much Ado About Nothing where Earle Hyman (a black actor) played Leonato. The company chose to leave in the racist "I would take her were she an Ethiope" line. In doing so, there was a moment on stage that was so abundantly racist that we all had to take a little stock of what we'd just heard. It was powerful and I thought worthwhile.

The actor who plays "Calvin Rhodes" is strong...I think a very talented, exciting performer with charisma and skill. I was responding to two things that are beyond his control.

One is simply that as POSSIBLE as it is that an Indian man could be all these things, it is extremely rare to see and I would venture to say something that would have been noted by the other characters onstage as he spouted about his racist feelings. It's a leap to ask the audience to hear and Indian actor speak this way and simply say "My own prejudices are getting in my way." Do you want the audience to feel judged, or to watch and understand and emotionally invest in the story?

Casting Hamlet as a black actor, as Peter Brook recently did, has not such issues, for example, because Hamlet is not expressly discussing race and his attitudes towards race.

The other problem with Calvin Rhodes is not the actor's performance, but the writing. This play is simply not a very good one, and leaves Mr. Puri speechifying and cursing and being a total bastard without much motivation. I was believe I said so in my review.

As far as the signers go, it is extremely difficult for me to review their performances. For one, because I had to often choose what to look at and I often chose the people speaking my language. I'm sure to those who understand ASL (the top two rows were reserved for them) they experienced a different play. I can only speak from my own. The ASL interpreters were all strong, interesting and working hard. But did I focus on them very much? No, unfortunately, I simply couldn't and take in the play as it was happening.

I would be careful to read criticism of a production as somehow a failing of the reviewer to think in an enlightened way about race or diversity. My job is to review the production, as it is, and what works and doesn't about watching it from my own perspective. To assume that I don't understand diversity (I have a gay brother and two adopted Korean siblings) is making a very large assumption of your own.

I have a great deal of respect for the company and the quest for diversity. It certainly made me think and I thought all the performers did beautifully. If you carefully read the review, you'll see that I am sure to praise the company and the actors who are all interesting, all working hard, and all worthy of praise. I would very much have liked to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and I would very much like to see more of them. Does that mean that I like "Stumps" as a play and that every single thing worked? No.

But I think this company has a great deal of potential and vision. I hope that was clear in the review as well.