The Playgoer: Warning: Gayness

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Warning: Gayness

Something cool about the new "Global" edition (did you know the Times now has an online Global edition?) is more theatre coverage from overseas.

So the idea of an all-male "Importance of Being Earnest" may not be such news anymore in NYC... what about in Singapore?

Presenting Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” with an all-male cast dressed as men has raised a few eyebrows in conservative Singapore, leading the media regulator to request the company to prominently display an age advisory of “16 years and above” on all its publicity material, with the notice, “Re-interpretation, all-male cast.”
Actually, I can imagine many here supporting the idea of posting warnings just for directorial "reinterpretation." (Warning: jarring pop-culture costume references that may or may not be relevant to the text.)

But in a country where homosexuality is still actually criminal, the disclaimer takes on extra political dimensions.
Theater in Singapore usually gets a lot of leeway because of its limited reach [gee, thanks], but having an all-male cast in a tangled romantic comedy is proving a bit more controversial because of the penal code. Indeed, anything that may be considered as promoting homosexuality or even suggesting homosexuality is normal can be punishable.
As sad as this situation is, I can't help thinking a staging of Earnest there actually does give back to the play a little of that frisson from the original premiere, staged in a Britain that outlawed gay men as well. (And imprisoned its author on such offenses shortly afterward, while the play was still the hit of the West End.)

But this not so subtle "Rated R" label merely for the suggestion of homosexuality on stage, is no doubt just as likely for certain regions of this country as it is for Singapore. And certainly this bureaucratic dodge sounds familiar:
Amy Tsang, the deputy director of arts and publications at the Media Development Authority, explained that the parental advisory is not a restricted rating, but was recommended by the Arts Consultative Panel, made up of a cross-section of members of the public, because it felt that “younger audiences, who may not be familiar with the original play, are likely to be confused about its content and underlying messages.”

Ms. Tsang said that panel members felt that the play had “gay undertones” and “may be inappropriate for a young audience,” adding that some members of the public had written to MDA to share their concerns about it.

Ms. Tsang said the advisory was meant only to alert parents and teachers and gives them the discretion to decide whether they want their children or charges below that age to view the play. “It is not a mandatory rating,” she stressed.
Yeah, "not mandatory." Like those "voluntary" stickers for naughty CD lyrics, remember?

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