I had such a great experience yesterday. I got to attend an Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance of OKLAHOMA (you remember the old Rogers and Hammerstein musical) in which the two main sets of lovers are portrayed as gay couples. Curly and Laury are both women and Will and Ado Annie (becomes Andy) are guys. This could have been a disaster. Instead, the director creates a world in which all people regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference are allowed to love who they want. Amidst that “self-evident truth”, the play simply goes on as normal. This manages to make it joyous, rollicking, and largely apolitical aside from the mere fact of its existence.
The cast is wildly diverse. The Aunt is transgender, couples are frequently inter-racial and the one prominent child in the play is mixed race. Cast members are black, Hispanic, Asian. Native, Middle-Eastern, and white. One cowboy (aside from Curly) is a female, while one of the “girls” is a boy in drag. But while all these elements add to the fun and originality of the play, they don’t intrude on the simple fun of Oklahoma. Judd Fry remains a terrifying and very real villain. The love between Curly and Laury is at least as real as the original, and the romance between Will and Andy is funny, and fun.
There’s one moment of political push in the dream ballet where Laury imagines a world in which people like Judd Fry become dominant, but otherwise, the fun goes on. The packed house of audience goers cheered, and applauded the brilliant performance — including me.
OSF has managed to prove that a resetting of a play in this color and gender blind fashion doesn’t have to be a weird little oddity. They’ve managed to make it mainstream — a reflection of how the world could be.
I’d suggest a trip to Oregon this year. : )