Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tonys Reflect Boring Monoculture

“A Raisin in the Sun,” 2014 (7th production)
Life was bad in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). And when things weren’t bad, they were boring. Mao’s wife Zhiang Qing oversaw culture, permitting people to watch only eight dramas, repeated over and over, both on stage and in the movies ("eight hundred million people watched eight shows").

After watching the Tony Awards Sunday, I believe Broadway is headed for monocultural boredom similar to that pioneered by Madame Mao. The top thirteen awards went to seven musicals or plays connected to one, constantly reworked theme: diversity is queen. For much of America, apparently Broadway in particular, we live under a culture that glorifies the modern state and our progressive-led coalition of minorities (especially blacks), unmarried females, and the creative LGBT community.

It’s of course ironic that Broadway’s “diversity,” in its uniformity, threatens boredom. Boring, you question, when a play like "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" wins the coveted “Best Musical” award? What can be more the-opposite-of-boring, you say, than a comedy about a mass murderer? As New York Times critic Charles Isherwood writes, “Bloodlust hasn’t sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since ‘Sweeney Todd’ first wielded his razor.”

“Sweeney Todd” blessed us in 1979. It was perhaps the worst musical I ever paid to suffer through. What culture laughs off mass murder?

Answer: a revolutionary culture; a culture that bludgeons the audience into overturning in its entirety the previous culture built upon hypocritically pious, state-backed Christianity. Revolution calls for total rejection of the past. That holds whether it's an American past that honored the Christian virtues, or, under Madame Mao, a Chinese past that honored Confucian virtues.

As Isherwood tells us about "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder":
A gentleman indeed, whose only wish is to secure his fortune by bumping off a few inconvenient relatives in Edwardian England. Since these spoiled sprigs on the family tree are mostly stuffed shirts or stuffed skirts — and are all played by the dazzling Jefferson Mays — you’ll be laughing too hard to shed a tear for any of them. . . Mays sings, dances, ice-skates, bicycles and generally romps through some eight roles — flipping among personas male, female and somewhere in between.
"Don’t cry!" we are told, just have fun laughing about the deaths of THEM--“spoiled sprigs on the family tree are mostly stuffed shirts or stuffed skirts.” And enjoy Jefferson Mays’ wild cross dressing from male to female to in between. Broadway, 2014.

For the rest of the Tony winners, understanding what’s happening today on Broadway begins with Mad Men, Season 1, set in March 1960. Republicans in the White House. Housewives in the kitchen. Negroes in their place (Mad Men’s maid Clara). Gays in the closet (Mad Men’s Sal Romano). And hard-drinking, misogynistic ad men running wild, clueless about their time coming to an end.  

Mad Men, winner of 15 Emmys beginning in 2007, was a defining cultural event of this century’s first decade--so well done, so crisply reminding us how far we have come, but most of all, entertaining us while nailing how bad the “good old days” were, why everything we’ve done since was so worth it. Revolutionary opera in China similarly dwelt on how harsh life was in the pre-Mao years, helping audiences appreciate that things were better under Mao.

The Mad Men era, focused on a progressive state liberating blacks, women, the LGBT community--the American cultural revolution’s winners--has engulfed Broadway. Victory yes, but is the message getting old, as pre-American cultural revolution memories fade?  Don't let it die.

Do you doubt Broadway is drenched in 1960s nostalgia? By reference only for gays, since the 1960s triple revolution of sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women didn’t liberate the LGBT community until later. Even the Stonewall Riots weren’t until 1969. Yet there’s little doubt gay liberation descends from our 1960s cultural revolution. It all began in the Mad Men era.

So take a look at the Tony winners:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Neil Patrick Harris, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT, set in 1970s; 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical Jesse Mueller, "Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical" (begins, like Mad Men, in 1960)

Best Play "All the Way" (1964)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play Audra McDonald, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" (black suffering, 1959)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Bryan Cranston, "All the Way" (1964)

Best Revival of a Musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT; 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Revival of a Play "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959 play, 1961 movie)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play Mark Rylance, "Twelfth Night" (LGBT; 1960s revolution by reference: “All the actors are being transformed. . . for some of them this means transforming into women. . . plot already depends heavily on cross-dressing”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical Lena Hall, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT, 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Book of a Musical Robert L. Friedman, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"

Best Direction of a Musical Darko Tresnjak, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"

Best Direction of a Play Kenny Leon, "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959, 1961)

No comments: