Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Everyone's a critic

I recently reviewed a production of "The King and I," a show which I gave a very good review, save for some constructive criticism about the need for make-up for two of the Siamese women. Today appeared a scathing review of my review, with follow-up note by my editor:

I take issue with BevSykes' review of the Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of "The King and I." To publicly single out any actor for not looking the part, only because of the color of skin and hair one happens to be born with, is offensive, unprofessional, and cruel.
Regarding Chelsea Betty (Tuptim) in her Siamese headgear, she states, "...made her look like Malibu Barbie on the way to a Halloween party." She compares Jennifer Bonomo (Ladn Thiang) to "...a woman who looks like my aunt Barb" only because they are Caucasian actors with Caucasian features. Apparently I "look the part," according to Ms. Sykes, meaning "Siamese or Burmese." I am of Mexican and Filipino heritage; so much for "authenticity."
As an actor of color, I would find it intolerable had my fellow Caucasian actors stopped to Ms. Sykes' vision of "make-up magic" to fit the part, especially in this day and age in DAvis, a bastion of tolerance and diversity. Why insult the intelligence of our audience? Director Steve Isaacson and the actors chose to rely on their talent and skill in their portrayals.
Ms. Sykes must have taken a potty break during the ironic "Western People Funny" number as the King's Siamese wives hobble around in clown-white makeup and "swollen skirts," bemoaning th3e futility of trying to look like a European lady. Duh!
Would Ms. Sykes have made a similar comment had the role of Anna Leonowens been played by an actor of color? Had Ms. Beatty chosen to "look the part," I sense Ms. Sykes' comments would have compared her to a Malibu Barbie dipped in a vat of caramel.
Having the honor and privilege of working alongside Ms. Beatty, Ms. Bonomo and all my other talented cast members, I can attest that the power of their performances transcends their skin color and inspires me to be a King of "commanding presence." Ms. Sykes' backwoods comments will only strengthen and solidify our remaining performances.
Juan Ramos (King Mongut)
Enterprise editor Derrick Bang replies:
Juan Ramos seriously overstates the degree to which Bev Sykes commented on the issue of color-blind casing, and he glosses over her key point: The issue is not (obviously) merely racial characteristics, but credibility and verisimilitude. Absent some effort to make an actor look or sound appropriate for a part which--as written--demans cultural specificity, the audience is, let's face it, robbed of a critical story element.
Ramos' precise heritage is inconsequential; what matters is that in this DMTC production he "sells" his part--which, if he's gifted enough, he could do were he purple with pink spots--and hence his King Mongut can be considered a successful portrayal. Alas, Bev could not say the same of other cast members.
Dismissing the potential advantage of makeup is disingenuous; why else would so many Broadway shows spend so much on this craft? I had no trouble with the African-American actor who played Schroeder in the 1999 Broadway revival of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"...but the Asian actor who played Linus left me flat. The former "caught" the character, the latter did not.
And "catching the character" certainly is within Bev's critical purview here at The Enterprise, as is exploring possible reasons for any failure to do so.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Bev, having seen the show, I agree with you and Derrick. (Hell, my friend bitched the entire time during the show about how Tuptim didn't pull off being Burmese at all.) They didn't even try to make up those particular characters. Yes, you can't help having white features and colorblind casting is good, but in this particular show, it's customary to make up the white people in it. Sorry, but it is, or else it's just confusing when the Burmese/Thai characters look and act like white people. Especially when there's so few "white" people in the cast of characters.