I am not going to lie. I am so stoked to see My Landmark Theater etiquette article get so many comments (and the fact that it's been the number 1 most read article on Richmond.com the last couple of days doesn't hurt my writerly ego either). I think it touched a nerve with people like me who a) are guilt-ridden rule followers (damn you Catholic conscience!) and b) people who believe very deeply in the importance of manners, who believe in old-fashioned behavior in public places, things like holding doors open and getting up to let people past. I know those people are out there. In fact I think the majority of people in this city are in that vein, and I think they're the ones who are responding most vociferously to my post, because we aren't just annoyed by rude behavior, we're hurt and affronted by it. It bothers us deeply, because we were raised to believe acting inconsiderate is wrong, and it's hard to understand why anything thinks it's right.
My favorite part about writing for an online forum is the feedback. Whether good or bad, I love being able to engage with readers. You can't do that with print (well I suppose you can, it's just delayed by a few weeks and shows up in the comments page), and it's just a really great facet of online journalism.
One other theater related thing. I saw August: Osage County last week at Barksdale's Theatre Gym. And let me make a quick preface. Go see this show. It is incredibly well acted, beautifully staged (the set is a textbook example of how to make the most out of small spaces). It is thought provoking, and Tracy Lett's writing is just unbelievably strong. It feels old fashioned in the sense that the script has the power of the old playwrights, Williams and Miller, writers who crafted this distinctly American vernacular of theater, language that is raw and forceful but still gorgeous enough that you want to curl up inside of it.
So go see it. Please. But here's my quibble. It may be that I'm feeling particularly sensitive toward women's issues right now, betrayed by my legislators and my state, who came very close to passing a bill that would have mandated an invasive, medical, intra-vaginal procedure without medical reason or the need for consent (sidebar: this should offend any human being, but as a health care professional in the making it is abhorrent, it goes against everything modern medicine stands for, where patient consent is not simply necessary, it is the one, unmovable, fixed benchmark we have).
Maybe it's that little alarm bell that goes off with the voice of my college Women in Shakespeare professor, who urged us to stand up for the women in our stories, to fight for their voices. Maybe my take is just way off from the Pulitzer Prize committee who awarded Mr. Letts that honor.
But I have a problem with the portrayal women in August: Osage County. I understand that female characters are characters, and that as characters they have the right to be mean and ugly and cruel. I understand that women in real life can be mean and ugly and cruel. But nearly all of the women in this play, at one point or the other, are one, if not all, of these things. And the other women are often small and shallow and foolish. The women drive their husbands to drink or suicide or affairs. The women pair up with completely unsuitable partners, because they don't want to be, horror, middle aged and single. Barbara, one of the leads, is such a strong woman, and for most of the play she seemed like the moral compass, the one who was made of steel. But then she ends up crying, asking her adulterous husband if he'll ever come back to her, as if she were the one in the wrong. And in that moment he is the sympathetic one. He's the one with the choice, the power of keeping the relationship going. And I just hated that. I know affairs are complicated, it's not simply one wrong person and one right. And many women might do just that, beg their cheating husbands to come back to them. But this character has been so strong up until that point, so moral, and it bothered me tremendously to see her reduced to that.
In contrast, many of the men in this play are sympathetic and decent. They are funny and polite. They try to stop fights and soften blows, while the women around them shriek and rant and go off the deep end. And yes there is one absolute creep of a male character in this play, but Letts has the female character stay with him even after he has tried to force himself on her fourteen year old niece. Which, I'm sorry, but no. Just no. I don't buy that. I don't buy that any woman, no matter how desperate or scared, would stay with a man if there's even the possibility of that. I'm a woman, with a niece, and it's just bullshit. It's not creating a flawed character. It's a flaw in character creation.
It's frustrating for me, because I love so much of the characterization of the women in this play. They are the strongest characters absolutely, in terms of how developed they are. I don't think Letts is intentionally sexist. I think it's just a very talented man, writing women, and getting aspects of it wrong because of a fundamentally flawed but deeply ingrained view of women in American society, which is in a nutshell the history of famous American plays and literature.
Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way. Maybe you could have the opposite opinion. And like I said before, you need to go to this play and form your own opinion because it's so worth seeing. The sexism I found here isn't obvious or outright or probably even intentional. Instead it's the subtle, insidious kind that permeates so much of our world, still, even in 2012, the kind that lives inside people (men and women), without them even knowing it.
We've come so far, but we're not there yet. The only way to get there is to question and challenge and ask yourself if things are fair, if women are given a real and honest voice, whether in life or in a play.