Playing Against Type

A little while back I saw a conversation on Reddit started by someone who’d directed Julius Caesar.  He’d chosen to cast a … what’s a good word … corpulent gentleman as Cassius.  His motivation was probably 90% practical (i.e. the big guy was the only choice) but he’d convinced himself that the casting really drew attention to Caesar’s famous “yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look” line, making people think that well duh obviously Caesar doesn’t really mean he wants to be surrounded by obese dudes.  You can have a “lean and hungry” look that has nothing to do with whether you are undernourished.

I’m into a book right now that looks to be painting Gertrude as an alcoholic (at the very least, she enjoys her wine a little too much).  That’s not the first time I’ve seen that, by a long shot.  I wonder if somebody’s ever played a tea-totalling Gertrude who won’t touch the stuff?  What if we took the whole wine thing right out of Hamlet and had the final bottle of Gatorade poisoned instead?

I’ve been thinking about typecasting in Shakespeare.  Some roles seem like they have to be cast a certain way.  Does Cassius have to be a beanpole?  Does Gertrude have to demonstrate her fondness for wine before we get to the final scene?  Does Hamlet have to dress all in black? Does Don John have to hold the cape up to his face and twirl that handlebar mustache?

Ok, I’ve never seen that last one, but it’s what I always think of when I see that play.  “There’s to be a WEDDING?!  I must RUIN it, because I am so very EVIL!!!  Grab the girl, tie her to the railroad tracks!”

Does anybody know what I’m talking about?  What character interpretation has become such a go-to move that you’re left wishing somebody would stand the idea on its head just to shake it up a bit?

6 thoughts on “Playing Against Type

  1. I seem to recall a production of Othello with Patrick Stewart as the title character, with all the other characters being black. I haven't seen it though…

  2. I know exactly what you mean. 🙂 I think there's a fine line, however, between avoiding cliches or typecasting and miscasting. But it's frustrating to see the same characters portrayed the same ways over and over, when there's so much room for interpretation.

  3. I saw that production of Othello with Patrick Stewart (at the Shakespeare Theater in DC) and it was very good. (Though it was about 15 years ago so I can't say I remember it in great detail.)

    The reverse casting felt just a little bit gimmicky, probably because there was SO much talk about it. But I think the goal of it was to emphasize his "otherness" and the idea of Othello as an outsider, but to do it in a new and different way. So it was pretty effective at giving you something to think about. (And of course, Sir Patrick always knocks it out of the park.)

  4. I saw a production of Much ado… with the sheriff played by a fat young woman. It was so funny and terrific I was sure they made up lines. Nope, I looked at the text, they did it the same.

    An actor can bury the lines if they're not read correctly.

  5. I'd say 'Duncan as old, doddering, and altogether ancient.' We know he's supposed to resemble Lady M's father, but that doesn't mean he's a hundred years old.

  6. The problem, of course, is that so many productions cast against type (and badly) simply because they have no good options in the casting pool that audiences have gotten used to it as a necessity born of poverty. It is very hard to make deliberate casting against type "read," because it all looks like you just couldn't find anyone to cast who was "right."

    I saw the "photo-reversed" Othello with Patrick Stewart, and I found it inspired, but the commitment to the bit was so thorough that you knew it was deliberate.

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