Last Friday was such a busy day that I didn’t get to a story that has Broadway buzzing, and not in a good way. Newsweek.com carried an “exclusive” article which discussed the drawbacks of gay actors playing straight characters. The writer, Ramin Setoodeh, focused his ire on Sean Hayes, who acknowledged he was gay just as he opened as the lead in the Broadway revival Promises, Promises. Setoodeh is unsparing in factoring in Hayes’s sexuality to assessing his performance—“Frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?”
While this might be an attempt by Newsweek to generate attention-getting copy at a time when the newsweekly is on the selling block, this is a polarizing way to do it and one that perpetuates a stigma that will only give pause to other actors who’d like to think they can be open about their sexuality, which frankly should not be factored into their work. Hayes’s cast mate Kristin Chenoweth fired back her own reaction, and she makes some worthy points.
“This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian,” she wrote. “For example, there was a time when Jewish actors had to change their names because anti-Semites thought no Jew could convincingly play Gentile. Setoodeh even goes so far as to justify his knee-jerk homophobic reaction to gay actors by accepting and endorsing that “as viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker room torture in junior high school.” Really? We want to maintain and proliferate the same kind of bullying that makes children cry and in some recent cases have even taken their own lives? That’s so sad, Newsweek! The examples he provides (what scientists call “selection bias”) to prove his “gays can’t play straight” hypothesis are sloppy in my opinion. Come on now!”