A good adaptation can change your mind about a play.
To put a twist on the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival retooled “Oklahoma” as a queer romance featuring multiple gay, transgender, and gender-nonconforming characters.
I won’t be able to watch straight “Oklahoma” ever again. The same-sex interpretation makes a lot of sense – barely any of the original text had to be changed to fit the f/f and m/m romances. In some cases, the original jokes become even funnier; one notable scene has the townsfolk shocked to learn Gertie Cummings married a MAN. Director Bill Rauch exhibits a keen sense of humor, advising actors to lean into the pronoun changes and other absurdities.
By abandoning historical accuracy, OSF’s production explores a fantastical world where same-sex attraction is a nonissue. This decision makes the now-homophobic Jud all the more frightening. His handsiness with both Laurie and Curly (and each woman’s subsequent discomfort), along with his description of burning down a farm after catching two girls together, threatens the accepting idyll of the Oklahoman townsfolk.
Before this, I hated “Oklahoma.” I scorned the original film, unimpressed by the supposedly “groundbreaking” musical.
I enjoyed the 5th Avenue Theatre’s 2012 attempt more, but that production still had problems. While casting a black man as Jud gave new energy to the material, Jud’s murder at Curly’s hands added a bleak ending to the thin story.
OSF’s “Oklahoma” strikes a balance: it retains the perky innocence of the original without leaning away from the horror angry men can bring. In fact, the same-sex interpretation boosts a fairly weak script, strengthening a once-tired classic for years to come.
“The world is changing,” cowgirl Curly says in the second act, “and we gotta change with it.”
I couldn’t agree more, so today I switch teams.
I’m Pro-klahoma and proud.
(You can catch “Oklahoma” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland Oregon now until October 27.)