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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who Says Moritz in Spring Awakening is a "Straight Part"?

Posted by on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Misha Berson thinks Jerick Hoffer is too gay to play Moritz in Spring Awakening, which he's currently doing—and doing beautifully—in Balagan Theater's production of the Tony Award winning musical. Berson's review has prompted a fresh round "Can gay actors can convincingly play straight roles?" dickering. (You know who created the role of Cornelius, the young & straight male romantic lead, in the original Broadway production of Hello Dolly? Charles Fucking Nelson Fucking Reilly.)

But is Moritz necessarily straight? Meaning, is "straight" the only possible and legit interpretation of the role?

Rest of this post after the jump because SPOILERS!

Moritz is plagued by erotic dreams, he's neurotic, he's an insomniac, he's BFFs with the hottest and most charismatic boy at his school, he's distressed to the point of revulsion by the anatomically-correct drawings of the vulva that his BFF creates for him, he has an extremely complicated relationship with a father who sees him as a weak and pathetic failure, he can't bring himself to run off with an attractive bohemian girl who clearly wants him, and... he blows his brains out.

Hoffer played Moritz straight and he played Moritz as straight. But it wouldn't be a stretch to play Moritz—to interpret the role—as a conflicted closet case with a crush on his best friend. And the erotic dreams Moritz tells his best friend about? Moritz says they're about women's legs... but maybe that's what he told his BFF because he can't bring himself to tell him what he's really been dreaming of.

It's an alternate interpretation of Moritz, not the interpretation that Hoffer made, but it's a legitimate and entirely plausible one. So even if Hoffer reads as gay in this production—and I don't think he does—I don't see how that would interfere with someone's ability to enjoy and be moved by Hoffer's performance.

Unless someone has a problem with gay actors.


Comments (30) RSS

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Fnarf 1
I'm still annoyed that "flamboyant" is considered a criticism. I'm wearing a flowered shirt right now, dammit.
Posted by Fnarf on January 11, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 2
Posted by Max Solomon on January 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Fried Worms 3
Seriously? Is Balagan paying for this? Are we still flipping out about this?

Big point of order. Misha did NOT say Hoffer was too gay to play Mortiz. She said his portrayal of the character wasn't convincingly hetero for a character lusting after a woman. That is a big damn difference. Dan is saying she's attacking the actor's sexuality, when she was criticizing his acting. Take her to task for that if you want, but don't mischaracterize what she was saying.

Secondly, since he thinks it's ridiculous boycotting everyone and thing that uses the word "fag", it sure seems odd for Dan to jump on the jump on Misha bandwagon over the word "flamboyant".
Posted by Fried Worms on January 11, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
seandr 4
Sure, one could re/interpret just about any male character as being a closet case, including Stanley from Streetcar Named Desire. If that interpretation improves the production or puts butts in seats, by all means, go for it.

And, if a critic feels that interpretation detracts from the play, or that the actor fails to pull it off convincingly, she should be allowed to say so without being shouted down by every A-gay in the city.
Posted by seandr on January 11, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
Is there really a "can gay actors play straight roles" argument? Two words: Rock Hudson. Hell, the entire 20th century entertainment industry was built on gay actors convincingly playing straight roles. This argument must only exist among kids born after 1985.
Posted by David Wright on January 11, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this
Um, gay people play straight roles all the time, and many of them quite convincingly. Unfortunately, many of their stages are what we call "high school," "family gatherings" and "work."

Oh heck yeah Rock Hudson!
Posted by DRF on January 11, 2012 at 12:57 PM · Report this
seandr 7
@1: "Flamboyant" is perfectly valid criticism if it renders a character in a play unconvincing or annoying.

I think we can all agree that if Heath Ledger or Jake Gyllenhaal brought any flamboyance to the roles of Ennis or Jack in Brokeback Mountain, it would have ruined the movie.
Posted by seandr on January 11, 2012 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Everybody who's chimed in on his Moritz has known Hoffer's Jinkx Monsoon work. There are varying levels of sophistication with which audience members who know him through Jinkx might be able to forgo watching for Jinkx's purposely overlarge gestures in Moritz. To avoid this "eye of the beholder" stuff, maybe it would be nice to hear from someone who'd never seen Jinkx. What were their impressions of Moritz?
Posted by gloomy gus on January 11, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this
Barney Stinson. QED.
Posted by gt_10 on January 11, 2012 at 1:12 PM · Report this
ERIN! 10
I'll judge for myself when I go see it on the 15th.
Posted by ERIN! on January 11, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Well, thanks for ruining "Dexter" for me. I just assumed Michael C. Hall was a mass murderer because you have to play what you are, right?
Posted by Real life does not equal fiction on January 11, 2012 at 1:24 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 12
@ 5 is absolutely right. Unless "Can gay actors can convincingly play straight roles?" means "Can effeminate men convincingly play macho stereotypes," and even then that's wholly dependent on the skill of the actor in question.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 11, 2012 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 13
Oh, Charles Nelson Reilly! I miss him.
Posted by Soupytwist on January 11, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
danewood 14
Misha has since clarified what she meant and has updated the review from its original printing. It reads: "Less satisfying is Hoffer's overly flamboyant portrayal of Mortiz, a luckless boy plagued by shame and guilt over his erotic dreams and longings. Hoffer has a strong voice and stage presence, but he mugs and poses more than need be, when dialing it back somewhat would add more emotional layers to Mortiz's unbalanced state and self destruction."

In that context, Misha seems to be saying that flamboyant doesn't necessarily mean that Hoffer was "playing it gay" but rather he was playing it to large and broad.

I read the original review before I saw the show on Monday and, to be honest, I thought Misha was calling him out for a camp performance. I was confused as to what she saw after I watched the performance. While mostly great, I did think parts of Hoffer's performance was a little overwrought and I believe that may be more to what Misha meant.

Though, I do concede that she may be covering herself from what many have read to be a slip of homophobia on her part.
Posted by danewood on January 11, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
1. Rock Hudson.

2. Neil Patrick Harris - if you don't believe that one watch Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and/or How I Met Your Mother. He plays a huge womanizer, Barney Simpson, and you don't even think about the fact that NPH is gay.

It's just a matter of good acting.
Posted by SherBee on January 11, 2012 at 2:13 PM · Report this
Oops! I meant Barney Stinson.
Posted by SherBee on January 11, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
So, straight actors can play gay characters but not the other way around?
Posted by c.huds on January 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM · Report this
I guess I don't understand English like I thought I used to.
Posted by BLUE on January 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM · Report this
Adding to the "sexually confused" interperetation of Moritz, near the conclusion of the character's story he's offered a chance to sleep with a beautiful girl (with killer hair) and tells her to leave only to scream to himself "All I had to do was say yes." As a gay teenager I often found myself in positions with attractive women in which I wondered why I didn't seal the deal. So if you're not convinced already, Moritz absolutely could be gay.

That having been said, Jerick did not play this role in a stereotypically gay fashion. Simple as that. I've known him for a long time and when I heard he was cast as Moritz I was surprised to be perfectly honest. But once I saw him perform the role with such raw conviction any subtle mannerisms that could potentially have hampered the performance were few and far between and you would really only have noticed them if you went in with an idea about the actor already in your mind. Normally this wouldn't even be an issue but this woman has called him out him out in a similar fashion once before. When you combine that with her error in simpy identifying the character he was playing it's hard not to raise an eyebrow. If this reviewer can't manage to be correct on something objective like the show's story why would we trust her on something subjective like an actor's performance? I don't know what her motives are, maybe she's not homophobic at all. But when everyone else is giving him raves it's not crazy to think she might have an agenda of some sort.

See for yourself, the production is tremendous and the entire cast delivers. It's a shame that this is the story that's getting the most attention when really it's the show itself that deserves to be talked about.
Posted by Sahoyah on January 11, 2012 at 2:54 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 20
1) She originally confused Jerick's character with ANOTHER character who lusts after his piano teacher, which she corrected. The whole nature of the Moritz character IS that he is confused and questioning...about everything.

2) She fixed her "Inch/Itch" boo boo but she still calls Jerick's character "Mortiz" in her review (twice) despite the fact the character is named Moritz.

3) It IS a big performance but it doesn't overshadow the musical. It is, after all, a ROCK N ROLL musical about disenfranchised, confused horny 19th Century teenagers singing pop rock songs with hand held microphones and stomping around the stage to Bill T. Jones choreography. It's not "The Secret Garden".
Posted by michael strangeways on January 11, 2012 at 5:14 PM · Report this
Can gay actors play straight characters?

Barney Stinson is laughing at you, dude.
Posted by MichelleZB on January 11, 2012 at 5:15 PM · Report this
Mrs. Robinson 22
Oh, Mr. Savage. Digger a little deeper in that Broadway vault mind of yours.

Before Cornelius, he was worried about his daughter kissing a rock star. Amusingly, Charles Nelson Reilly understudied for Paul Lynde who played the role of father Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie. CNR filled in once a week for him when Lynde was busy with the Perry Como show. CNR went on to understudy for Dick Van Dyke's character (Albert Peterson) as well.
Posted by Mrs. Robinson on January 11, 2012 at 6:04 PM · Report this
Sad that some folks do not have the ability to grasp the concept of ACTING. Would they not be able to enjoy a revival of Sondheim's "Assassins" if they knew that not a single role was being performed by anyone had even attempted to kill a president? NPH did an amazing job in his portayal of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Posted by TampaDink on January 11, 2012 at 7:38 PM · Report this
Hmm. Any time I am at the theater, the whole experience is so gay I would have a pretty hard time separating the gayness of any individual from the overwhelming gayness of the entire environment. Perhaps a better question is: "Can live theater convincingly portray any person as straight?"

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by Learned Hand on January 11, 2012 at 8:38 PM · Report this
Whatever happened to having fun just enjoying the show? Sounds like someone is a frustrated actor who didn't want to be a critic and a little jealous of the actor who they are skewering. I don't see much theater and would love to have seen this show. The actor is supposed to get creative input and interpret his character I thought . . . so what the hell is the reviewers problem?
Posted by ndattn on January 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM · Report this
@7 actually, it would have just made it a *different* movie, and if well handled and framed by the direction and other performances, could have been just as good.

to equate 'flamboyance' (by which i assume we're discussing effeminacy) with automatically detracting from a performance/piece of media reveals only bias and insecurity.
Posted by straight hack-ting on January 12, 2012 at 2:22 AM · Report this
Every time I've taught Spring Awakening (I was a German professor for many years), there has been at least one full class period devoted to discussing whether Moritz was gay. The text is unclear on this matter; the subtext is rich with the notion that this is a legitimate interpretation.
Posted by jkwseattle on January 12, 2012 at 9:39 AM · Report this
Tracy 28
@8 For what it's worth, Gus, I knew nothing of Hoffer (or Monsoon) before seeing this show, so I'll just say again "I thought Hoffer's Moritz took some interesting choices...not what I expected, but he presented such a wrathful pain, it was mesmerizing."

I always thought of Moritz as softer than what Hoffer presented, but I thought his performance was great, and it was refreshing to see a new take. His performance of "Don't Do Sadness" was more brutal (with less melody) but I thought it a valid choice, and it worked.
Posted by Tracy on January 12, 2012 at 9:47 AM · Report this
samanthaf63 29
Isn't that why it's called "acting" - because straight actors can perform gay parts and vice versa?
Posted by samanthaf63 on January 13, 2012 at 6:57 AM · Report this
Let's be honest, this actor may be too much of a ham to effectively play a nuanced, dramatic role. If that is true, it has nothing with him being too gay. Or, the actor may be mugging and posing because the director wanted it to go that way.
And the critic may be participating in some gay-actor-bashing (consciously or unconsciously) and trying to walk back her comments now.
ANYWAY, the thing I think is most interesting is the interpretations of Moritz's sexuality, which I have always questioned. I love that, depending on the day, I can convince myself that the show works best interpreting him as a repressed straight guy, a gay guy, a guy conflicted with idealizing and crushing on his best friend while still fixated on women, or a guy who is consumed with being different because he doesn't want to have sex with anyone. That is why it's a great musical based on a great play.
Posted by nutts on January 15, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Report this

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