This week I saw a production of Uncommon Women & Others, which is about the experiences of growing up as a woman, specifically in a college setting. The play addresses issues of sexism, gender roles, and sexual expression. And yet, in the midst of liberal-leaning talk of menstrual blood, clitoral orgasm, and penis envy, something stuck out to me like a sore thumb.
In the play there was one actress of color. One. And she happened to be cast in the role of the “other,” Carter. Carter is the outsider. The quiet genius who is never quite accepted by her group, who is wearing all brown/plain oversized clothes in a sea of brightly colored miniskirts, ass-hugging bell-bottoms, and deep v-necks. She is blatantly talked about while she is in the room, and fetishized for her quirkiness and introversion. SHE SERVES ALL THE OTHER WOMEN TEA! And all of this combined with the fact that she was the only body of color onstage told a very specific story.
But the play wasn’t about her, and there was no satisfying moment of reckoning where Carter gets to tell her story or speaks with the other women about her experience. The character is stuck. Her story isn’t addressed in the play, because that role wasn’t written for a woman of color. It was written for a white woman. So at the end of the day, what this production did was show me what I’ve seen throughout history and into the present day – a person of color be ignored, ostracised, and used. I was left wondering if the issue of race had even been considered by the director.
Now, I’m not saying that this play can only be done will all-white actors, in fact I think a more diverse cast than just one woman of color would serve to extend the idea that this play is truly about the female experience. More fully diverse casting would bring it into the present day through intersectional feminism. But as far as this production goes, it means something when every other character in the play except for the outsider is white. I am all for color-blind casting. Please! PLEASE more color-blind casting for the love of God! But we aren’t at a place where we can just cast willy-nilly without THINKING about what we are doing! Bodies onstage tell stories simply by existing in the space, and I’m advocating for giving thought to what that story is. If we don’t think about it or talk about it we could find ourselves in a situation like this production; unintentionally (I’m sure) telling a story that we do not intend.