A Response to Drew University's "The Waiting Room"

March 29, 2019

“The Waiting Room,” which was written nearly 30 years ago, is outdated and harmful to our community. Although the message is important and relevant to our time, it is told through racial stereotypes thus alienating women belonging to those races. Though for its time the play might have been productive in the feminist agenda, today it is read as harmful, sharing many characteristics with what many consider to be white feminism. It would be unfair to attribute these faults solely on the playwright. The director and the powers that allowed this production to come to Drew should be held accountable. Instead of making strong choices to counter these stereotypes, the production contributed to the distasteful piece by using transphobia as a means to comedy and is insensitive to the portrayal of sexual assault onstage.

 

Though some parts of this production were written for comedic relief, the sexual assault and rape in the show should not have been used for comedy. The cackles of some of our peers during these scenes were met by students saying, “Hey, it’s not funny.” To present this hurtful humor to a community that has recently lost their sexual assault support, due to Title IX cuts, is detrimental to this community. These characters had the potential to help heal, but have done quite the opposite by making rape a joke.

 

Furthermore, the casting was offensive. Forgiveness, a Chinese woman with bound feet, was portrayed as a caricature with an unnecessarily thick accent and a lack of depth. This is made worse by the fact that the actress is not Chinese, a casting issue that lies on the director. Additionally, the only black actress played exclusively serving roles such as a masseuse, a nurse, a secretary and more, therefore being subject to the needs of the other characters. If the department chooses to overlook these offenses when deciding to produce a play, they must address them. There are a number of ways this issue could have been solved; however, it was not. It was left ignored. The only action taken was to distribute a couple of other serving roles and assign them to male actors dressed as women.

 

 PHOTO COURTESY OF TYRIK ONCE

 

It is important to note the performance of the actor who played the bartender. The actor’s gendered performance, which included hip-swishing, hair-flipping, and high-pitched speaking, was harmful, as the director’s intention for the character was never clear, and rather served as a cheap laugh. Later in the same scene, this character has an interaction with another male actor who hits on him by complimenting his appearance. The actor in drag responds with sass and a hair flip, playing it up for laughs from the audience. Setting these types of interactions up as a joke without follow-up or intention are thus transphobic and homophobic directorial choices. This comedic response was not matched when we saw a female actress dressed in drag in the same scene. These choices only further highlight the gender inequality between female and male performers and encourage jokes at the LGBTQ+ community’s expense.

 

It is true that good theatre often creates controversy. However, it is also true that good theatre never harms the communities to which it presents itself. The harm of this production can be measured by the number of students who walked out of the theatre. It is your responsibility as an artist to know your audience and whether or not the interactions you are embodying could be damaging to that audience. Furthermore, it is your responsibility as an artist to either modernize the play in collaboration with the playwright or choose another play off of the enormously growing shelf of modern playwrights that have yet to be popularized. You cannot produce a second-wave feminist production to a third-wave feminist audience. These are just a few of the many problems with Drew University’s “The Waiting Room.” Perhaps if the theatre department created a safer space for its students, they would have a wider and more diverse pool to settle casting issues; however, these productions tell many students that they are not welcome.

 

We say we care about inclusion and diversity yet Drew’s community is constantly faced with ill-informed and ignorant hate. If theatre truly reflects reality, then what is our theatre saying about our community? Do better.

 

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