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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Closet

Apologies for the silence of the last two weeks. I needed a break.

So, there has been some furor recently over Ramin Setoodeh's Newsweek editorial/review of Promises, Promises on Broadway starring openly gay actor Sean Hayes in the "straight" role of C.C. Baxter.
The article received an angry response from Hayes's co-star Kristin Chenoweth and a call for a boycott of Newsweek from Glee creator Ryan Murphy over the claimed blatant homophobia of the article.
Well, I read the article, and, while Setoodeh could have chosen the words used a bit more carefully, I wouldn't say that I found the piece overtly offensive or homophobic. Is it appropriate to factor in Hayes's off-stage sexuality in critiquing his on-stage performance? No, probably not. Having not seen his performance, I really can't comment, but I do see how knowing a good deal about someone's private life could affect an audience's ability to accept an actor in a different role. This may or may not necessarily be a reflection of the actor's actual performance.
Setoodeh's related criticism of Glee actor Jonathon Groff isn't as easy to dismiss, but, again, he was trying to make a point, though perhaps not with the utmost sensitivity.
I don't know that a boycott of Newsweek over the article is necessary, though a related article about "celebrities we knew were gay all along" certainly warrants heavy scrutiny, in my opinion.
I do think that there is some merit in the article - less for its criticism of openly gay actors seemingly (again, I can't comment on either performance mentioned) unable to effectively portray their straight characters.
The merit exists in the thinly-veiled indictment of the effect of celebrity on artistry. This takes two forms: first in the roles for which the actor is best known affecting the audience's acceptance of a new characterization, and, second, how knowing too much about an actor's private life can affect how we view these actors in the make-believe world.
Is Setoodeh's criticism of Hayes in a straight role an effect of knowing that Hayes is actually gay or the fact that Hayes's role of Jack on Will and Grace is so indelibly linked with the actor? It's hard to say.
Is it worth asking? That's a tough one. I think it's a touchy subject when one broaches the question of an artist's private life, but we do live in an age of multi-million dollar salaries for teenagers, tell-all biographies (and autobiographies), and the E! Channel. Maybe what I see as a "line not to cross" is really only there in my imagination.
Sexuality aside, are we as an audience affected so heavily by the image we associate with an actor - whether real or imaginary - that we cannot see them in any other way?
I think sometimes we are - at first. Whether we can get past that (or how fast) depends upon how well the actor fully realizes the character.
For Setoodeh, perhaps Hayes and Groff didn't accomplish that, but, perhaps also, blaming their private lives was out of bounds.
Still, Setoodeh was obviously looking to open a discussion (though he may have got more than he bargained).

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