Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Age On Stage

Age On Stage

Ever since August: Osage County premiered at Steppenwolf two years ago, I've heard one common "complaint" about one member of its cast, "Sally Murphy (pictured, far left) is way too young to be playing the role of Ivy Weston."

No matter that Ivy is written as a 40 year old woman.

Oh I know, I know. Sally Murphy certainly doesn't look anything close to 40. After all, her last Broadway role prior to August was as the young, baby-faced Tzeitel in the 2004 revival of Fiddler On The Roof. But truth be told, Sally Murphy was born in the fall of 1962, making her just a tad older than Ivy Weston. Murphy isn't getting older, she's getting better.

More recently, I've been struck by the number of people (including yours truly) who found an incongruity in matching Jayne Atkinson (pictured, middle) with Rupert Everett (pictured, right) as her husband in the recently departed Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit. No, no one was musing anything about real-life sexual orientation. Instead, I kept hearing, "Jayne Atkinson's Ruth looks way too old to be the wife of Rupert Everett's Charles."

As my dear friend SarahB at Adventures in the Pursuit of Endless Entertainment has continually reminded me, the lovely Atkinson was made up to appear older than she really is. Because in actuality, Atkinson -- born on February 18, 1959 -- is a mere three months older than Everett, who was born on May 29, 1959. Ironically, I didn't hear a soul complain about the stretch of Everett being paired with Christine Ebersole as his first wife Elvira. The eternally youthful looking Ebersole celebrated her 56th birthday just three days after Atkinson turned 50.

My point in all this? Our ageist culture does a tremendous disservice to individuals of all ages, actors and otherwise, as it tries to peg people into stereotypes based on age or lack thereof. Since we've seen color-blind and to a lesser degree gender-blind casting, maybe age-blind casting should be seriously considered, too. The stage is perhaps the best laboratory to make it happen.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 21 July, 2009, Anonymous chris caggiano said...


Couldn't agree more. I'm sick of people saying this person is too old, or that person is long in the tooth. Um, it's called acting, folks. If someone can convincingly play the part, who cares what actual date is on that person's birth certificate.

Also, with respect to Rupert Everett, well, there's the whole plastic surgery thingy. So on stage he certainly looked considerably younger than Atkinson. But so what? Who's to say that the Charles character couldn't have married an older woman? Doesn't that happen in real life?

I really wish people would leave their ageist crap at home when they go to the theater on focus on the quality of the performance.

At 22 July, 2009, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

What's so interesting is that I never thought Jayne looked older than Rupert. Besides without the obvious plastic surgery of her costar, she looked very much like a British woman of the period and Ebersole's casting is more circumspect as she should have died young.

People are now talking on the chat boards that it would incongruous to have Angela Lansbury play the mother of a 35 year old. Which is utter nonsense to me.

Perhaps our high definition technology has skewered our ability to the appreciate the illusion. Mrs. Patrick Campbell was 49 years old when she originated Eliza Doolittle. Mary Martin was in her forties when she played Peter Pan and Maria von Trapp. Etc, etc.

For me, as long as the performance is honest the actor's true age is irrelevant.

This reminds me of a story I heard about Helen Hayes was playing Mary Stuart on Broadway in the 1930s in Maxwell Anderson's "Mary, Queen of Scots." When Hayes (who stood 5') was questioned as to how she could be believable as the monarch who was known to stand around 6', Hayes' responsed, "I will ACT tall."

At 22 July, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Okay, I'm one of those people who thought Jayne Atkinson seemed too old to be married to Rupert Everett. How was I to know their birthdays were so close?!

I think part of it was Atkinson's hairstyle, which made her look older.

Also, I'd seen Blithe Spirit before with actors who looked much closer in age, so maybe I still had that conception in the back of my mind.

But yeah, I agree that ideally it shouldn't matter. Like Chris said, there's no reason his character "couldn't" have married an older woman. And I never even thought about Sally Murphy's age in "August."

And it's funny that Kevin should mention acting tall. When I met Harriet Walter at the stage door after "Mary Stuart", I was surprised at how small she was. She definitely acted tall!

At 23 July, 2009, Blogger karigee said...

My (mild) beef with "Blithe Spirit" didn't have to do with any perceived age discrepancies so much as a lack of compatibility (shall we cave and call it chemistry?) between the leads -- I could detect no spark between those three actors whatsoever. Both Everett and Ebersole seemed out of time and place with Atkinson and Lansbury, who I would've been happy to see playing all the parts by themselves. Something about the production never meshed right for me, and that's all I can think to pin it on. Because actresses "of a certain age," of course, are one of my most celebrated wonders of the world :)


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