Hi Tito (if that IS your real name)! I never had a qualm about doing it. You're playing Tito, an opera singer who's there to play Otello. Of course he wears dark makeup to do this.
Ultimately, I think this: It is an issue only for people who are paid to think about the theatre. In other words, theatre personnel, and reviewers such as Chris. And that's fine; I totally understand the basis for raising the question of its appropriateness. Blackface can certainly have a loathsome connotation. But can you find one single example of a regular audience member, in any of the thousands of performances this play has had, objecting to it? Picketing, angry letters to the editor, complaints to the management, anything like that? I tried, and couldn't. Once you're inside the theatre, for actors and audiences alike, I think it's a non-issue. Break a leg!
49 readers' reviews of the recent Broadway revival on nytimes.com; not one objects to the blackface, even those who hated the production. I think context is everything here; with near unanimity, once audiences have seen the show, they don't find it objectionable.
It's a pleasure, Chris! What's interesting to me is that, aside from some critics mentioning it, I can find only one instance of a production encountering anything like actual "protest". That's the one I mentioned earlier; when Carey Perloff took over as artistic director of ACT in 1992, she scheduled Tenor to open the season. Then due to protests *within the company*, she cancelled it.
You're right, you're definitely not; I remember a well-publicized production a few years back (in San Francisco, I believe) that was planned but never opened. I also don't believe the Broadway revival used ANY publicity photos of the characters dressed and made up as Otello.
One has to wonder why Ludwig didn't use Pagliaccio instead. It's a perfect substitute: a legendary operatic tenor role requiring full costume and obscuring makeup (whiteface), and with more recognizable music to the general public than Otello's. To me, the only suggestion of racism lies there; with an arguably better substitute available, he chose Otello instead. Maybe the extent to which one finds Otello "funnier" than Pagliaccio is some sort of measure of one's racism? Or could you argue that Otello's inherent dignity makes Tito's/Max's ridiculous behavior funnier than if they were actually dressed as clowns?
And of course, it's easy for me, a Caucasian, to say "I'm not offended at all by Tenor!". But to say that Ludwig is inferring that "all dark-skinned people look alike" seems a stretch to me. Diana and Maggie are so besotted with Tito that they're blind to the obvious differences between Tito and Max. If that's a funny concept, in theory at least, then is it funnier in whiteface than in black?
Have to disagree. (Full disclosure: I played Tito once.) I think Lend Me a Tenor is a superior play to Noises Off. The production I was in was, in fact, hilarious, based on audience response. Of course, a good production of Noises Off will be better than a bad production of Tenor. But I think Tenor's script is funnier.
As far as the blackface issue goes, I feel like the audience is asked to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, that two (usually physically and vocally dissimilar) actors could be mistaken for each other simply because they're wearing the same costume and makeup. Would the play be as funny if both Max and Tito were made up as Pagliaccio? I think so.
Shakespeare on several occasions asks us to take seriously the idea that a woman in man's clothing can easily pass as a man. This is harder to believe than the situation Ludwig invites us to laugh at.
When I hover my cursor over the image (in Safari on the Mac), I get a pop-up caption that includes Bryan, but he's not in the caption itself. Maybe you're editing the alt text, but not the actual caption? Just a guess...
Chris, thank you for this. I'd like to mention that Jack Kendall was in attendance at the reunion as well, but is absent from the photo above. He arrived as the photos were being taken, and there *are* group photos with him as well, though they haven't surfaced yet. The photo of 21 people above includes director Barry Fuller; Jack was the 21st cast member in attendance. Thanks to everyone at Rhodes for a most wonderful day!
"We were a happy little company..."
By Chris McCoy
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