Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You've Got to be Carefully Taught (or not)

Just because I love theater doesn't mean I can't find a few things wrong with it.

Read this. I'll wait.

My problems are as follows:

  • These are high school kids. This is a high school production. Nobody's making any money off of this. The integrity of "Big River" has not been compromised. Leave them alone!
  • "To ignore the racial component of Huck Finn does a disservice to the story." Um, no it doesn't. Actually, the reverse-casting helps make Mark Twain's points: that Jim and Huck are equals and that racism is crap.
Theater, unlike literature, TV or film, is not a static art form. It is a living, breathing enterprise that must adapt to its surroundings and conditions. If you follow the logic of R&H's argument there would be no black actors in any production of a Chekhov play. That's a disgusting thought.


Joe said...

On the one hand, I think you're right about the copyright issues. The Rogers and Hammerstein Organization ought to be able to tell that they'll make a lot more money from the free publicity if they leave the kids alone than by "protecting" its assets.

However, the Post is being completely disingenous to compare Huck Finn with A Christmas Carol (where race really is irrelevant), West Side Story (where I'd argue the specific races don't matter, as long as the Jets are one and the Sharks are another) or "Fires In The Mirror" (which, IIRC, was orignally written and performed as a one-woman show, by a black woman).

I don't Twain's point as simple as "Huck and Jim are equals". (In some senses, it's about Huck becoming Jim's equal.) It is is tied up with the whiteness and blackness of the characters, in a tightly defined social context, and unless you're prepared to actually reverse-cast, not colorblind cast, the whole show, I think you've deeply blunted the message.

Then again, while I think it's a bad choice, it is a choice which the director should be allowed to make. Especially in high school, they should be free to make it for educational reasons.

Alison said...

What I want to know is, why in blue blazes is a high school musical airing on CSPAN? Have we actually run out of news?

lemming said...

Nothing like a few grown-ups to screw up perfectly good young adult theater.

TeacherRefPoet said...

I very much disagree that Huck and Jim are equals in -Huck Finn-. They are only equals while on the river, and painfully, pointedly not so at all other times, which I think is a huge part of Twain's point. Whenever they go to the banks, Jim is either tied up, forced into a humiliating position as a madman, or sent through absolutely terrible, humiliating, even painful situations at Tom Sawyer's whim. So I do think that reverse-race casting, while interesting, does screw up Twain's message.

Of course, it's arguable that it creates a new, interesting message (although I disagree). So I support the director's right to reverse-race cast it, and think that Rogers/Hammerstein has dropped the ball.