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Review: The Bitch…of Loving Balagan’s “Spring Awakening”

Review: A “West Side Story” for the new millennium.

January 10, 2012 Comments Off on Misha Berson owes Jerick Hoffer, and all gay actors, an apology…and, swiftly responds. Views: 2931 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Media Beat, My Soapbox, Stage

Misha Berson owes Jerick Hoffer, and all gay actors, an apology…and, swiftly responds.

Jerick Hoffer as Moritz in Balagan Theater's current production of "Spring Awakening". Apparently, not butch enough for Misha Berson.... Photo Credit: Pamela M. Campi Photography

To say I’m angry right now would be an understatement.

Earlier tonight I posted my review of Balagan’s current production of the hit Broadway musical “Spring Awakening” and it was pretty much a rave. It’s an amazing show and Balagan has staged an excellent production with stand out performances from the entire cast, but especially lead performers Brian Earp, Diana Huey, Kirsten deLohr Helland and Jerick Hoffer and my review reflected that. I spoke with other critics after the performance last Friday night and I know several of them also very much enjoyed the show and the reviews have started trickling in, and so far they all seem to justly praise the production. I did not speak to the Seattle Times theater reviewer, Misha Berson that night; in fact I’m not even sure she was there and if she was, I wouldn’t have recognized her…we’ve never met and I have no idea what she looks like.

Misha Berson’s review for the Times also appeared today and I glanced at the headline, “Spring Awakening: Powerful Passion at Balagan” and surmised that she also enjoyed the production and gave it a positive review, but I didn’t actually read the review. One, I seldom actually read the Seattle Times because, well, why would you if you didn’t have to? There’s not much reason to check it out, is there? Secondly, I’m not a particular fan of Ms Berson’s reviewing style which usually seems to consist of three or four paragraphs of plot summary, most of it rehashed from the press release, followed by a couple paragraphs of vague, “I liked this and this” or more rarely, “I didn’t really like this” and a limp summation. She usually finds something vaguely positive to say about most big stage productions and, (in my opinion) tends to be a bit tougher on what she loves to call “fringe” (meaning anything that’s not at the 5th Avenue, ACT, Seattle Rep, Intiman or the Centerhouse Theater at Seattle Center). Her general theater coverage is bland and if I really want to find out what’s going on in Seattle theater, I either nose it out myself, or go read someone with better reporting and writing skills like Brendan Kiley at The Stranger or Jose Amador at the former Seattlest/The Seattle Star.

But, I felt compelled to check out Misha’s take on “Spring Awakening” and it’s the usual Misha Babblefest/Plot Summary/Talking Points from Press Release and it’s all positive and lovely until we come to this paragraph in her review:

Bu a dissident note here is Hoffer’s overly flamboyant portrayal of Moritz, a luckless boy plagued by the shame and guilt of his erotic attraction to a female piano teacher. That longing isn’t evident in Hoffer’s diva showiness, which seems more suited to the drag rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Itch” than the world of “Spring Awakening.”

(Yes, that “Bu” is what’s posted on the Times site, as of 11:20pm Monday night…yes, typos happen, but Jesus…the Times is a big professional newspaper…they HAVE proofreaders on staff don’t they?)

I’m not that overly sensitive to cries of media homophobia and god knows I’m not a fan of being overly politically correct, but this shitty review/trashing of Jerick Hoffer really pisses the hell out of me.

Basically, Misha Berson is saying: “Jerick Hoffer is too gay and faggy to play this part and he should stick to drag.” 

It’s homophobic. It’s incorrect. It’s demeaning to Jerick Hoffer and it’s demeaning to all gay actors. Apparently, Ms Berson has hitched her wagon to Ramin Setoodeh, the Newsweek journalist who got in some hot water two years ago with his controversial article “Straight Jacket” where he declaimed gay actors aren’t very good playing straight roles. (And, in an interesting coincidence, Mr. Setoodeh used out actor Jonathan Groff as his example; Groff played the part of Melchior in the original Broadway production of “Spring Awakening”, a straight role for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.) And, obviously, Ms Berson is also aware that Jerick Hoffer is also “Jinkx Monsoon”, the very popular drag queen entertainer and current host of LeFaux at Julia’s on Broadway, the weekly celebrity drag show Friday and Saturday nights. It also seems that Ms Berson isn’t approving when it comes to drag stars also being talented, classically trained theater actors…or vice versa. The not so subtle vinegar in Ms Berson’s prissy prose, is that Jerick needs to go back to drag queen/Re-bar School of Drag Musicals and leave the “real” theater to the He Man actors equipped to play suicidally inclined, emotionally conflicted late 19th century German 16 year olds.

It’s ridiculous and homophobic to suggest that a gay actor cannot portray a straight role. That doesn’t mean Seattle Rep should run out and book Mr. Hoffer for the role of Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire” but the Seattle Rep isn’t stupid and Jerick Hoffer isn’t stupid. Theaters book actors they believe can portray a specific role and actors accept parts they think they can reasonably portray. The role of Moritz is a part very well suited to Mr. Hoffer’s talents regardless of his sexual orientation or physical appearance. Moritz is a gawky, confused, agitated, emotionally damaged 16 year old kid who just happens to be able to burst out in song and dance to express his emotions. Jerick Hoffer is a gawky, ridiculously talented, Cornish educated 23 year old actor who just happens to be able to very proficiently burst out in song and dance to express the emotions of his character. It’s not a huge stretch for the actor and he does an excellent job.

And, who is to say that Moritz might not be a bit gay? Actors interpret roles based on the text and subtext of the material as well as the concept of the director and the production team. Moritz is a young man heavily conflicted by his role in school, his family, his society and the changes going on with his mind and body. The character as written has feelings for the female character, Ilse, but…so what? Maybe Moritz is bisexual…maybe he’s gay…maybe he’s just questioning, or maybe he’s just a bit of a nerd. I don’t see why his sexuality or the sexuality of the actor playing the character is detrimental to his role in the production.

And, for the record, I didn’t find Mr. Hoffer’s interpretation of the role to be “flamboyant”. It’s a valid, interesting, quirky take on the character. I didn’t see “Jinkx Monsoon” beloved drag queen on stage playing Moritz, I saw Jerick Hoffer young actor. It’s a fine performance in a role the actor is suited for. Balagan and director Eric Ankrim didn’t cast Mr. Hoffer in the leading man/straight hero role of Melchior…they cast him as Moritz and he delivers the necessary goods to play the part beautifully. To suggest otherwise, based on idiotic perceptions of masculinity or the perceived lack thereof, is beyond moronic. It’s insulting to all actors and the gay community.

Misha Berson owes Jerick Hoffer an apology. She owes gay actors an apology. She owes the LGBTQ community an apology.

She also owes journalism an apology. In the above paragraph, she states: “Moritz, a luckless boy plagued by the shame and guilt of his erotic attraction to a female piano teacher. Ms Berson is incorrect in this statement. Moritz, the character played by Jerick Hoffer is not the character in lust with his piano teacher…that would be the character Georg played by actor Mike Spee. Here is photographic proof.

Jeannette d'Armand (Adult Women) and Mike Spee (Georg) in Balagan Theatre's "Spring Awakening." Photo Credit: Pamela M. Campi Photography

UPDATE: And, Ms Berson responds in the comments section on her review:

I want to respond to some reactions to my review of Jerick Hoffer’s performance as Moritz in “Spring Awakening,” and set a couple of things right.
First, though Moritz is obsessed with sexual longings and fantasies, I misidentified him as the boy in the play who is attracted to his piano teacher. That character is another boy, named Georg, and I regret the confusion.
Second, by likening Hoffer’s approach to his role to the performance of the drag-rocker lead character in the show “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” I had no intention of demeaning that excellent but very different musical, or any depiction of homosexuality, or anyone’s personal sexuality.
My point was simply that as an actor Mr. Hoffer employed flamboyant mannerisms and an over-the-top showiness in this particular pop-rock musical which to me seemed out of sync with the overall tone of this “Spring Awakening,” production, and left little room for subtlety in his performance. Others may feel differently about it, and they have a right to their own responses.
I do see the need to clarify my comments, and an amended version of the review will soon appear here and in print.

Well, that’s nice but Ms Berson doesn’t seem to get that the word “flamboyant” is a code word for GAY and can be inflammatory. And, it’s all hogwash. I very much appreciate that all art is highly subjective and every person is entitled to their opinion, but I’m not quite getting what was so off putting or over the top in Mr. Hoffer’s performance in a ROCK AND ROLL MUSICAL about conflicted, horny teenagers. Her remarks will lead people to expect Moritz as portrayed by Ziggy Stardust in a cast full of pious hard working refugees from a cruise ship performance of “Oklahoma”. It’s ridiculous.

And, I’m furious I didn’t catch her third fuck up in that review, referring to “Hedwig” as “Hedwig and the Angry ITCH” instead of “Inch”. Apparently, the Times CAN’T afford a proofreader…

 

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