Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh boy, I said - right again . . .

I've gotten a certain amount of grief over the past year for pointing out the reverse-sexist slant of Boston's leading print critics, all of whom are women. Probably the worst offender has been (yes!) Louise Kennedy of the Globe, and today she comes out swinging at the Lyric Stage's production of David Mamet's November (reviewed by yours truly below).

Louise admits the play is often funny, at least early on, but then suddenly pulls up short:

For me, though, the laughter stops whenever Mamet turns to the character who's not a white guy, the president's speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein. Clarice is a lesbian, and she and her partner have just adopted a daughter from China. That's so funny! And now they want to get married. Wow! Get a load of that - does it get any funnier?

This is a little hard to understand - does Kennedy really imagine Mamet is holding up Bernstein's lesbianism as a punchline? I'm gay myself, and certainly a vocal proponent of gay marriage, but I detected not even a hint of homophobia in Mamet's play. Sure, Mamet's got a history of issues with women - or at least he's got a history of deep distrust of women, coupled with a strangely intense involvement with his own masculinity (or doubts regarding same!). But most of this is decidedly under wraps in November; indeed, "Bernstein the Lesbian" is the only admirable character in the play - she's the "straight man," if you'll pardon the obvious pun (that I'm sure Mamet intended). The mystery about her character, as I pointed out in my review, was why she would ever work for her idiot boss.

But Louise goes on:

In the company of three men who are laughable because of their character traits - greed, cynicism, whatever - we get a woman who's laughable because - well, let's see. Because she's a woman, because she "bought" a baby, and because she's a lesbian. Sorry, not funny.

She's laughable because she's a woman? Strange, no one at the performance I attended laughed at her because she was a woman, and I don't think Mamet ever intended anyone to, either. True, Mamet has his Bush factotum bray that Bernstein "bought" her baby, but this is written (and played) as a crassly low blow - and one right out of the Republican playbook, anyhow.

What's weirder still about the review is how innocently it betrays Kennedy's own identity politics. When it comes to the Native American casino chief who shows up and does a war dance, she has this to say:

At least the chief, played with stomping verve by Dennis Trainor Jr., gets a few good lines. So maybe that's the lesson: If you're going to treat a whole sector of the human population as a joke, at least make it a funny one.

Hmmmm. Somehow I get the impression that if Louise were a Native American, her opinion would be quite different - i.e., the show was a riot until Crazy Horse showed up, then suddenly it wasn't funny! Indeed, if anyone has a bone to pick with Mr. Mamet over November, it's Native Americans - that casino chief really is just an intentionally "politically incorrect" one-liner. But I think lesbians, and women in general, should be willing to smoke a peace pipe with the playwright over November.

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