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When Edward Albee’s Estate Resisted The Casting Of A Black Actor For The Role Of Nick

Richard Burton as George, Elizabeth Taylor as Martha, George Segal as Nick, and Sandy Dennis as Honey in the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

‘It is important to note that Mr. Albee wrote Nick as a Caucasian character, whose blonde hair and blue eyes are remarked on frequently in the play, even alluding to Nick’s likeness as that of an Aryan of Nazi racial ideology. Furthermore, Mr. Albee himself said on numerous occasions when approached with requests for nontraditional casting in productions of ‘Virginia Woolf’ that a mixed-race marriage between a Caucasian and an African-American would not have gone unacknowledged in conversations in that time and place and under the circumstances in which the play is expressly set by textual references in the 1960s.’ ~ In 2017, Casting A Black Actor Derailed A Staging Of This Famous Play, by Katherine Brooks

Oh, brother! An Oregon theater tried to cast a black actor in the supporting role of Nick in Edward Albee’s iconic play Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, and the Albee estate revoked the theater’s license to stage the play, and the theater accused the Albee estate of racism.

And I’m thinking, please! Grow up!

I’m referring to the theater.

Too much entitlement, trying to get away with whatever comes to mind just because it involves the race card, is what it’s all about — the reason progressive identity politics have stumbled their way ahead instead of seizing the day and sweeping the world. This misapplication of progress, its sad abuse of openness, it backfires, and how!

Behold! When open-mindedness loses the plot, demanding things that make no sense, including the casting of actors who contradict the very essence of the play in question, calling whoever stands in their way a ‘racist,’ you get what we have here: a mess.

It’s the result of overeager, underwhelming individuals whose arguments resort to the race card too quickly. Progressive causes suffer these individuals and their misguided crusades, their noble efforts tainted with the kind of automatic, hypocritical, entitled fanaticism that progress is designed to fight against, ending up with a headline that embarrasses the cause at large.

The thing is, not everything has to be reimagined along the lines of mixed race. If we’re truly moving away from racism, we have to move away from race as a factor, and that means both mixing up the races and not dealing with race at all.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf is the kind of play that manages to capture a moment in time in an all-white college in the sixties. Why must one turn it into a tossed salad? If we’re truly beyond race, beyond racism, leave the play be, don’t bring color into it.

And if you do have an idea that reimagines it along racial lines, at least make sure your changes fall within the parameters, structure and form of the play. Cast Martha as black, for example, not Nick, or Honey. A black or hispanic or asian Martha would add a great dimension to the dynamic, all within the framework of the narrative. Make the changes work for the story, not against it, otherwise the whole thing doesn’t make sense, including your vision, and the ideology behind it. Change for the sake of change is seldom a good idea, in fact, it’s as stupid and narrow-minded as racist conservatism. Be smart about the reform you’re introducing, or be quiet, lest you harm the image of progress and open society beyond your precious circles.

Not to mention the author’s right to retain control of his characters. He has that right, and so does his estate, all without being called racists. A realistic play written around four white characters in the sixties deserves the right to be what it is, its author’s choices respected, all without people screaming bloody bigotry when the author’s estate resists changes that would undermine the play’s credibility.

The openminded among us would do well to take a step back and reassess their position. Fail to do so, and they brand themselves entitled loudmouths with little to no ability to discern.

I hope the irony is not lost on them. The ability to discern is paramount to a progressive cause, as opposed to doing things willy-nilly, just because, which is the hallmark of narrow-mindedness.

Yes, there is such a thing as narrow-minded open-mindedness. It occurs whenever a progressive cause is applied misguidedly and with fanaticism i.e. without the ability to read the situation properly.

The Oregon theater screamed bloody bigotry, deeming the Albee estate’s resistance to their casting a black actor for the role of Nick in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ‘convoluted racism.’

I call the estate’s reaction a reasonable one, well within their rights.

And the theater’s reaction, I deem it unfortunate, at best, if not hysterical and misguided, and hostile to the cause of progress at large on account of its inability to discern. The theater’s management doesn’t seem to understand that mixing things up for the sake of mixing things up is not necessarily positive. Far from smart, it sends strong signals that their venue fails to grasp the particularities of the play at hand, reinforcing the stereotype of the one-track-mind liberal. For true open-mindedness to exist, and for a truly inclusive society to operate, progress has to be applied judiciously and with discernment, not hysteria.

Hysteria is not an open society’s ally.

Common sense, on the other hand, we can’t get enough of.

From your mindfully progressive and pander-to-no-one Spin Doctor,

Eyes open, mind sharp.

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