Saturday, March 14, 2009

Acting gay

If someone told you to act like a gay man, what would you do? Chances are your first thought - if you are not, in fact, a gay man - has something to do with a limp wrist. Maybe you conjur up an image from a movie - Nathan Lane or Hank Azaria in Birdcage, perhaps, or some cabana boy character. Pretty easy to act like a gay man, right?

I am cast as a gay man in a Neil Simon play called The Gingerbread Lady. (Start shameless self promotion) Opens April 3, 2009 at Dreamweavers Theatre, Napa CA. Call 255-LIVE for tickets. (End shameless self promotion.) This play was written in the early 1970s, almost 10 years before Harvey Milk started making history in San Francisco. There were not a lot of openly gay people portrayed in theater and films then, so I imagine it was a little bit outrageous at the time. The character even calls himself "a flaming queen" in one scene, and the dialogue certainly confirms that description. 

So an easy part, right? Just "gay it up" real good. Pour on the affectations. Hmmmm. I'm having something of a conundrum over it. The problem is, the director has updated the script to the modern day. Today we see a lot of gay men portrayed so there is no novelty in it. And more troubling, none of the gay men I have ever known behave in the exaggerated way that fits with "acting gay." (Well, maybe a couple.) But is it right to play the stereotype, even if that's what the writer created and what the audience expects? Can you play someone who calls himself "a flaming queen" with some subtlety, and avoid turning the character into a cartoon? 

If you will forgive me for making a comparison that involves a really good actor, it's a little like Robert Downey, Jr.'s character in Tropic Thunder ("the dude disguised as a dude playin' another dude!") in which he is a white actor playing a black man. The white actor's concept of a black man is full of cliches and stereotypes that are offensive to the real black character in the story. I keep thinking about that as I do my "acting gay."

1 comment:

Stan Goldberg said...

Here are two suggestions. The first do a scene in front of a small test audiences doing an over the top gay scene, than middle of the road, and finally nothing added that would indicate (gayness). Ask the audience what they felt about the character. Let them tell you (and the director) how the character should be played.

If you need something simple, try to make your consonants more precise and clipped. Use that as a basis to build up your character's "gayness" if you need to.