Friday, June 08, 2007

Labute and Color Blind Casting

There is an interesting discussion of Neil Labute's comments on color-blind casting happening at The New York Theatre i, Matt Freeman's place, and BlogStage among other places. I have nothing to add that hasn't been said beautifully by those good people and their commenters. But at the intersection between that discussion and what we were talking about yesterday, a question occurred to me: Is Neil Labute an example of a conservative playwright? In many ways, this article about color-blind casting has a neo-con flavor to it, and when I think of plays like The Shape of Things and films like In the Company of Men I start to wonder. In many ways, these pieces either bash traditional liberal issues (The Shape of Things, for instance, really paints an awful picture of contemporary artists) or celebrate traditional power relations (like the men's power in In the Company of Men). I suppose you could say that he is critiquing these things, but his comments on color-blind casting make me stop and think. He is sort of like the playground kid who gleefully crows "Wanna see something gross???" I don't know Labutes work well enough to make a definitive judgment, but I wanted to throw the question out: is he a neo-con playwright?


Jamespeak said...

I don't know if he's neo-con. He's an ex-Mormon (which, from what it sounds like, was more the Church of Latter Day Saints' choice than his).

Don't know if that explains anything. It probably doesn't.

parabasis said...

I think trying to read political backgrounds into Neil LaBute's work is giving a bad playwright way too much credit and attention.

But if we must... What makes him Conservative in a classical sense is that all of his plays are exactly the same (this makes him aesthetically conservative) and preach a kind of hopeless dead end nihilism that in its own way enacts the conservative agenda of keeping people in their place.

Scott Walters said...

Isaac -- yeah, I sort of feel the same way. A belief in the basic evil of humanity, it seems to me, is a conservative philosophy in that is works against a belief in the possibility of change.

Ben Kessler said...

Really? I think that for a thinking, feeling person in these times it's almost impossible NOT to believe in the basic evil of humanity. Neil LaBute's work, as much as the situation in Iraq, is evidence of that evil. It's clear that LaBute doesn't believe in anything at all, really, except maybe his own sense of entitlement. He's not saying anything about the world and its actual inhabitants, he just splits his characters into self-justifying male aggressors and weak female victims, sometimes switching the genders for faux-variety.

LaBute is a great example of how issues of good and evil (yeah, spiritual issues) transcend political binaries. You can't criticize him from within an established ideology. Accusations of misogyny will be met with, "No, the play is ABOUT misogyny," and around and around we'll go. In order to properly rebuke LaBute, you need to drop all liberal and conservative poses and get your hands dirty in his polluted stream of writings. Mainstream voices in the theater have failed to do this, and that's why LaBute continues to score plum productions season after season despite the snarky displeasure he always draws from the critics. Getting rid of LaBute is a challenge this community has failed to face. Instead of asking "What is he?" with reference to convenient political signposts, we need to ask, "Why is he still with us?"

Quin said...


because he's good.

he makes you think and talk and remember his words.

you don't have to like HIM, you remember his plays. his films.

sure, they aren't all top notch... no one has a perfect score, the thing is, he puts his ass on the line every time, the way any playwright worth his salt does... no matter if it's mamet or rivera labute or shakespeare or me :)

i want the theater to be colour blind. i want to not think about who is in the role, i want to only was magic.

as far as labute... i do know his work.. i've been fortunate to know one of his mentors from byu when i lived among the land of the utes.

it's about love... how we lie about it, run from it, want it, fear it, beat people with it... the fact people have no idea how to deal with this emotion, so, they fear it more than anything else, and we as humans mess it up... and he writes about those who do it on purpose. who take that emotion we all crave...and abuse it.

he's with us because, look... how many journals online are talking about him and his plays.

we remember them. we discuss them. we take them home with us.

and that's a hell of a lot better than walking out and saying, "what did we just see?"

Scott Walters said...

I don't know, quin. There is almost a geelful celebration of the ugliness of human nature. Many might call that "disturbing or "thought provoking," but for me, it is just decadent and soul-destroying. I don't think plays that undermine trust in my fellow human beings is serving a valuable function.

Quin said...

i agree on the gleeful..a bit like pulling off that's gross..ewwww do i really want to do that??

and we do anyway.

i have personal issues with labute's works.. they resonate with me on such a deep level, i've often sat there (or as an actor, been part of the process in that sense) and have been almost paralyzed by the depth of the pain felt by his words.

not all of us have had a gee, this is swell childhood.

labute points that out.. that large numbers of people view love not in a roses and pink and jewel way, but, in harsh reality.

if that wasn't true... would our divorce courts be so full, our shelters for battered women so in need, and would children be abused at the rate they are?

i may not like it, but, i don't like cancer either... and i'm stuck with it, too.

he points out what is, what can be.

we carry on because we hope...and as i keep saying (and yes, this is a protected comment in a written monologue) hope is a trojan horse...we see it and love it's beauty and the glory it holds forth, so we keep opening it.

sometimes it's not so nice....and very labuteian.. and sometimes..ohhh, sometimes..

it's glorious.