Those on the BroadwayWorld.com message boards have recently been discussing the possibility of men playing women’s roles – not in drag, but as men. Most don’t see a problem, calling the idea “interesting,” “fun,” or “a challenge for the actors.” Interest, fun, and experiment are all well and good, but these folks are missing the point entirely:
At its heart, theatre is telling a story – live and in front of people. Stories can be anywhere from devastatingly bad to unbelievably excellent. The excellent stories – the ones that grip your imagination and won’t let it go, the ones that leave you completely satisfied, yet yearning for more – those are the stories that stay within the vast bounds of truth. Stories with myriads of characters, all archetypes, but all unique. Characters who have their own voice, quirks, pet peeves, obsessions, and joys interacting with characters who have a completely different voice and set of circumstances. Characters who could never swap places with another without drastically changing the story. You wouldn’t dare say that Macbeth and Hamlet are interchangeable, or even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for that matter.
These irreplaceable characters, just like us, are shaped by their unique backgrounds, and that includes gender. No matter what the latest postmodern thinker tries to tell you, men and women are inherently different. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” But we need no Biblical declaration or scientific study to tell us what we can easily discern by fifteen minutes of watching children on a playground. Boys and girls think differently, react differently, and grow differently.
And that is why Mrs. Lovett could never legitimately be a Mr. Lovett. A Mr. Lovett, gay or not, would have a completely different back story and would react to situations in a wildly different way than Mrs. Lovett. Switching genders would change Lovett’s relationship with Toby from a creepy motherly one to God knows what and Lovett’s relationship with Sweeney to some weird gay/straight/straight love triangle. Instead of the exploration of vengeance that the show is, it would become some exploration of political correctness and gay propaganda in a backdrop of horror. And that, needless to say, was not the author’s intention.
Good writers weave their stories very carefully. Everything becomes intentional, often down to the color of a person’s hair or a well-placed comma. Changing even the littlest thing can change the truth of a story and diminish its excellence. If you want to write some gay love story, be my guest, but don’t ruin the excellent stories of others for your own personal crusade.