Cross-gender acting: Glengarry Glenross
Recently I was privileged enough to catch the play Glengarry Glenross at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre.
Many of us have seen the movie version, but this adaption was unusually delicious as the complete cast was female.
Cross-gender acting is becoming much more commonplace, and judging from the sold out run, increasingly popular.
Acting was solely a male profession in Ancient Greece, Rome and Medieval England. Kabuki theatre was invented in the early 17th century, by a woman named Perches and consisted of women players. Despite these
origins however, by 1649 the country’s (male) leaders did not approve of the “wicked” atmosphere, and men only performers became the rule.
In Western Europe, women performing on stage eventually grew, firstly as singers and dancers, then moving on to mystery plays as the 17th century ended.c
It was in comedy however where females started to explore their own ideas and express their anger and political thoughts about the patriarchal societies they were living in.
In early cinema “breeches roles” were not uncommon and actually commonplace until after the 1920’s deeper understanding of lesbianism made it less desirable family fare.
It is also interesting to note that there were more women involved in producing directing and writing in these early years than there are now in Hollywood.
In the 1950’s Peter Pan was televised live starring Mary Martin as the main character, and later Sandy Duncan was the Peter Pan of my generation. It was not until the 2003 Disney movie that an actual young boy inhabited the role.
Animation has proven to be a common place for a female voice to inhabit a male role.
I personally would love to see more Cross Gender acting and not just women playing youthful boy roles because of a voice or that they “fit” a body type, but real meaty ballsy performances such as in Shakespeare or Mamet’s work.
English actress Maxine Peake has said she hopes playing Hamlet will make it easier for women to fill male roles because Shakespeare’s female parts are “quite problematic”.”For a lot of really well-regarded female actors in the Victorian age and before, it was seen as being part and parcel of your journey and genesis as an actor.”
Peake played Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in the fall of 2014.
Hamlet is “the ultimate part” and is more well-rounded than female theatre characters, the actress said.
Frances de la Tour was the last high-profile woman to play Hamlet in the UK, in 1979 until Maxine Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom said: “Up until this century, there was a massive tradition of women playing this role. Fiona Shaw played Richard II at the National Theatre in 1995 and Kathryn Hunter played King Lear in 1997. An all-female Julius Caesar was staged at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2012, and an all-female Henry IV will be seen there in October. In many productions of A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim is cast as a trouser role. The Spirit of Christmas Past was originally depicted as Ambiguous Gender, but is often portrayed as or at least played by a woman. Occasionally, even Christmas Present gets cross-cast or gender-flipped.
Lesbian icon Melissa Etherridge played St.Jimmy in American Idiot and her performance was noted for being seductive and highlighting the androgynous nature of the character.
Tony award winner Glengarry Glenross by David Mamet is a story of two days in the life of real estate salesmen, greed and corruption are their staples of the trade. Located at the cross streets of Queen and Logan, The Red Sandcastle Theatre owned by Artistic Director Rosemary Doyle, is a long narrow building so the stage is lengthwise with the audience sitting directly parallel to the action, it’s very intimate.
From the opening scene in a Chinese restaurant the audience feels as if they are in the establishment itself actually eavesdropping on fellow diners. The characters step on each other’s dialogue, a manipulative wordplay ensues whereby just ” listening” to a robbery plot enslaves one salesman into becoming an accomplice to a planned crime.
Julie Brar and Marianne Sawchuk — the creative team behind Jet Girls. saw this production as a chance to feature an extraordinary ensemble of female performers in a fresh take on one of the great modern classics.” I’ve always loved the characters and language of Glengarry,” says producer Julie Brar. “The themes of greed, competition and ambition are not male or female characteristics.
Indeed all foul mouthed liars, deception is the name of the game here and these women were brilliant in their depictions. I hope to see more of this type of entertainment, the traditional male roles portrayed by women, after all it is called “acting”.
About the Author
Cat Grant OCAD is a multimedia artist. A published poet currently writing a book,she contributes to Hone Life, Jingobox and her blog for theBUZZ Kitty Indacity. Painting, sculpture, photography/video, choreography/dance & costume design also make her days. Cat has worked with Deadmau5, Panasonic, Sony, Konami and volunteers for many queer organizations.