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.”
Background Kyo Sohma can turn into a cat. That’s kind of his thing. If involuntarily turning into an adorable animal isn’t embarrassing enough, he’s an outcast in his own family, forced to spend the remainder of his life in a locked room.
Mark Cohen hates paying rent almost as much as he hates the virus that keeps killing off his closest friends. He struggles to create while squatting with his best friend Roger in New York.
Kyo hates everything and everyone and expresses all emotions as poisonous rage.
Mark hates plenty – his parents, his job, Roger’s abandonment issues – but prefers to observe rather than engage. According to Roger, Mark uses art to numb his emotions so he doesn’t have to face them…ever. In fact, he only really brings up his feelings as a way to win arguments or push people away.
Two people actively pushing each other away? That screams health to me.
Maybe, despite all this, these two can work it out. The two have complementary personality traits: Kyo is loud, Mark is quiet; Kyo is aggressive, Mark is passive-aggressive; Kyo perceives constant rejection as a result of his family’s hatred, Mark experiences crushing loneliness despite group acceptance…
Now that I think about it, Mark has a lot in common with Yuki Sohma, Kyo’s canon rival.
Roger Davis from RENT and Queen Amidala from Star Wars
Background If Roger Davis isn’t singing about his problems, he’s running away.Granted, he has depression, something I’ve only recently been able to appreciate. He sulks in his apartment. He worries about his lifespan. He picks out melodies on his untuned guitar. His most unforgivable sin results when he mocks his roommate Mark after the funeral of a mutual friend. Mark wishes all his friends would stop dying; Roger spits, “POOR BABY,” and moves to Santa Fe, leaving his best friend and his dying girlfriend behind.
Naboo elected Queen Amidala when she was 14 years old for unknown reasons. While on the throne, Amidala navigated a siege, political intimidation, and a planet-wide war. She frequently switched places with one of her handmaidens, claiming safety concerns, though one suspects she just liked doing it.
The Couple I’m not even going to fight for this one.
Roger’s depression has him resigned to death. He can’t confront intimacy – he can barely leave the house!
Queen Amidala would not have time for that. She is running a PLANET. Her people are under SIEGE. What would taking care of an emotionally volatile man do to her political career?
Aaron Burr from Hamilton and Kylo Ren from Star Wars
Background Most know Aaron Burr as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. In the musical, his personality boils down to strategic passivity and resentment at playing second fiddle to the brash, inelegant Hamilton.
Kylo Ren, the new trilogy’s polarizing villain, idolizes Darth Vader (like many Star Wars fans his age.) Vader possessed the presence, power, and certainty Ren lacks. Ren spends most of his time throwing tantrums and holding grudges. He also enjoys pointless one-on-one duels and failing to blow things up.
Both of these men can hold a grudge; I can see them spending many a night bemoaning their past wounds over pints of Sam Adams.
Both have wrestled with uncertainty and indecision before landing on a single course of action: attain power, no matter the cost.
Kylo Ren isn’t…the smartest of villains. His tendency to rush into situations guided by emotions leads to grand failures for the First Order.
Burr, on the other hand, has the patience to play the long game as well as the drive to take action.
Ren needs Burr standing in Hux’s usual spot at his shoulder, whispering, “Wait for it…”
Daine Sarrasri from the Tortall Universe and Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton
Background Daine Sarrasri, the lame follow-up protagonist to Alanna of Trebond, almost made me swear off fantasy. Daine represents everything I hate in female characters: she has the power to talk to animals, but is too incompetent to be of much use. She’s so pure and shy that the plot practically glosses over her. The Strong Female Character trope rose as a reaction to characters like Daine. Shyness, femininity, and empathy don’t have to result in bland, weak, useless characters, yet HERE WE ARE.
You either love or hate Alexander Hamilton, the fast-talking immigrant from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus. He outwits British armies! He fights political corruption! He stands up for his ideals! He cheats on his wife! A bunch! Enough times that his murder at the hands of Aaron Burr comes as a relief!
TheCouple All arguments about his complexity aside, Alexander makes a TERRIBLE husband. He picks work over his wife every time, flirting with his sister-in-law through letters meanwhile.
Let’s say both Schuyler sisters are out of the picture. Would this arrogant founding father enjoy being eclipsed by a woman who has supernatural abilities?
“I’m a wizard with the press!”
“I’m a literal wizard.”
“I defeated the British armies with my tactical brilliance!”
“I deposed a king by storming his castle with an army of zombie dinosaurs.”
While Daine isn’t the one-upping type, no way would Alexander be cool with sharing the spotlight.
The nightmare begins
The first speculative fiction novel I ever read betrayed me.
I stole The Sky Insidefrom a friend after watching her read it during math class. “What a unique plot!” I thought. “A colony of people living in a dome? Who engineer their own babies? And build robotic collies? Sounds like a one-of-a-kind reading experience!”
I wasn’t wrong.
After 229 pages, I wished death upon myself, the idiot protagonist, and his stupid robotic collie. The entire experience left me leery of “promising” concepts.
So when my mom told me she’d scored “primo” tickets to a musical version of Persuasion, I should have been suspicious. Instead, I turned off my inner alarm. I had theater, Austen, and one of my favorite people on my side.