Hailey Bachrach

 

Who’s afraid of a casting switch?

Portlander Michael Streeter thought he was going to produce "Virginia Woolf." Edward Albee's Trust said no. Why? Because Streeter had cast a black actor.

Producer Michael Streeter had been planning since November 2016 for his production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, intended to appear at Portland’s Shoebox Theatre in September. There was only one hurdle to clear before officially being granted the rights to perform the play, which he had on hold with theatrical publishers Samuel French: he sent headshots of the cast off to the Albee Estate for approval.

The cast of Woolf consists of four characters: a middle-aged married couple (George and Martha, famously played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film), and a younger married couple (Nick and Honey). On May 15, Streeter got a call from the Albee Estate asking for him to elaborate on his choice of actor for the role of Nick. Streeter had cast a black actor, and was happy to explain why.

As he said to me by email, “This was a color conscious choice, not a colorblind choice. I believe casting Nick as black adds depth to the play. The character is an up and comer. He is ambitious and tolerates a lot of abuse in order to get ahead. I see this as emblematic of African Americans in 1962, the time the play was written. The play is filled with invective from Martha and particularly George towards Nick. With each insult that happens in the play, the audience will wonder, ‘Are George and Martha going to go there re. racial slurs?’”


Playwright Edward Albee, in an undated photo. UH Photographs Collection, 1948-2000/Wikimedia Commons

The Albee Estate was not convinced. They insisted that the actor be fired and the role be recast. Streeter refused. So the estate refused to grant the rights to the show. Streeter, shocked, took to Facebook: “I am furious and dumbfounded. The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st Century. I cast a black actor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Albee Estate called and said I need to fire the black actor and replace him with a white one. I refused, of course. They have withdrawn the rights.”

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Think Pink (and cupcakes, too)

Oregon Children's Theatre's "Pinkalicious" makes sweet music and a little bit of a moral for its enthusiastically pink-clad audience

Oregon Children’s Theatre invited its audiences for Pinkalicious: The Musical to wear pink, and the suggestion was enthusiastically taken up by a majority of the audience at Saturday’s opening matinee. The pink-clad demographic, ranging from 3 years old to about 10, featured a corps de ballet’s worth of tulle and tiaras sported predominantly by little girls, but by at least two boys as well.

Oregon Children’s Theatre, celebrating its 30th anniversary this season, is a master of its trade, and has engineered every aspect of the afternoon to be maximally exciting for its young audiences, from the scavenger hunt in the lobby before the performance to the carefully marshaled line for actor autographs and (pink, obviously) coupons for free miniature cupcakes afterwards. And, of course, the show in between. A brisk 60 minutes, with peppy musical numbers placed at perfect intervals to minimize fidgeting, and just a dollop of audience participation, it’s easy to see why Pinkalicious) (written by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, composed by John Gregor, and directed by Stan Foote) has been a sell-out hit for OCT through several revivals.

The great Cupcake Caper, Spray Division. Photo: Owen Carey

This iteration is anchored by the ridiculously winning Kai Tomizawa in the title role as a young girl who eats so many pink cupcakes, she turns completely pink, to the dismay of her family and friends. Last seen as young would-be Confederate soldier Raz in Artists Rep’s A Civil War Christmas, Tomizawa has an assured stage presence that in this instance puts her more closely on par with her adult co-stars than her fellow young performers. She can sing, she can dance, and she has a maturity and confidence—an ease with directing her brief moments of audience call-and-response and with holding the huge Newmark stage—that is seriously impressive. And judging by the multiple young audience members excitedly reading her name and reminiscing about her Drammy-winning performance as Junie B. Jones, she has something of a fan following. I found myself hoping that the casting director for next fall’s Fun Home at Portland Center Stage has an eye on her.

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Talented. But are they universal?

In the world premiere of Yussef El Guindi's "The Talented Ones" at Artists Rep, flashes of daring, and longing for more

The tomatoes are rinsed, the lasagna’s ready to go, the beers are out. Cindy’s husband is late for dinner, but in The Talented Ones, Yussef El Guindi’s new play that had its world premiere Saturday night at Artists Repertory Theatre, their guest Patrick is more than happy to chat while Cindy finishes the preparations. She confesses a childhood dream, he encourages her, they laugh. There’s a spark there. There’s familiarity in the way the lights come up mid-conversation, the actors munching on real veggies: it’s the kind of everyday platform we’re used to the theater using to catapult us into deeper questions, explorations of ideas that are inevitably billed as universal.

Khanh Doan, John San Nicolas, and Madeleine Tran in “The Talented Ones.” Photo: Brud Giles

The problem with the idea of “universality” in art has been widely acknowledged: what people generally mean by it is something that is written by and about straight white men. They are the generic, universal mode of drama—everyone else is embellishment, specificity. Artists Rep consistently and admirably resists falling into this trap when marketing its intentionally diverse seasons: The Talented Ones, directed by Jane Unger, is not underlined for its status within the season as An Immigrant Play, but presented as a dark comedy about that most universal of topics (at least in this country, where “universal” and “America” are basically synonyms), the American Dream. This balance between universality and specificity—of being a story about everyone, but also about a narrow slice of human experience—is also one that El Guindi strives to strike within the play itself.

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