The Playbill hustle

BY Bruce Vilanch

September 26 2005 12:00 AM ET

I know
we’re not supposed to make fun of other
people’s cultures, but it really is hard to
stop laughing at those pictures of George W. Bush
holding hands with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Of
course, the culture we’re really laughing at is
our own, the one that thinks it’s unseemly for
two guys to hold hands in public unless one of them is 10
years old and the other is Michael Jackson. This is a
culture that thinks putting a well-established slacker
in a uniform and letting him climb out of a fighter
jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier gives him the bearing
of a righteous warrior—a warrior who pronounces
“mission accomplished” and then goes on
vacation while a thousand more soldiers die on his
watch. This is a guy who won’t knowingly hire a
homosexual but who has now asked the Army to drop its
reservations on such behavior so they can harvest more
kindling for the inferno they’ve set in the Middle
East. So it’s really pretty rollicking to watch
this guy get forced into holding hands and looking to
all his constituents like Norma Desmond being swept
off her feet by Rudolph Valentino in some fantasy silent
movie.

The Saudis may
have gotten a laugh out of it too, but not for the same
reasons. In Saudi Arabia men do hold hands. In fact, men
spend so much time exclusively in the company of other
men that if you ask modern gay Saudis, they will tell
you there are worse places to be.

The idea feels
strange, I grant you. But consider some of the places
where we’ve always thought it was easy to be gay,
only to find it isn’t. Broadway, for example.

I’ve spent
the last year working there in wigs, heels, and, most
bizarrely, a fat suit for Hairspray. One of the
downsides of working in the theater is that you don’t
get to see many shows, because everyone is on the same
schedule. Occasionally the incoming shows will stage a
full dress rehearsal on the afternoon of their first
preview so that other show folk can come and take a look and
the cast can get their first taste of an audience before
they have to perform for people who have actually paid
to get in. In such instances they don’t hand
out Playbills or programs to the theater crowd.
Maybe that’s a perk that comes only with the $100
you’ve shelled out for a ticket. But I have another
theory.

The producers and
creative types, many of whom are gay, don’t want show
people to read the biographies the actors provide for the
programs. It’s too embarrassing. Almost every
actor between 18 and 49 throws in a loving reference
to his wife, his lady love, or his children. If he
doesn’t have any of those, he dedicates his
performance to Audrey or Leslie or Sharon, which is
usually his dog. One good-looking gay actor told me he does
it to ward off trolls. I decided not to take that
personally. But we know why most of them do it.

Theater is
considered such a gay profession, and so much of current
theater deals with gay issues, that actors don’t want
to be typecast offstage. One tiny way of guarding
against that is to reinforce their straight
credentials in their bios. But you can’t hand this
stuff in a Playbill to a theater crowd. Too much of
the audience would be shrieking with laughter before
the curtain ever went up.

But enough about
Broadway. Now I must return to my Arabic lesson. I want
to be able to decode the playbill when The Full
Monty
opens in Mecca.

Tags: Commentary

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