A Newsweek reporter has triggered a Broadway feud by declaring that openly gay actors aren't convincing in straight roles. The writer, Ramin Setoodeh, found it "weird," for example, watching gay actor Sean Hayes portray a straight man in the musical hit Promises, Promises, because, Setoodeh wrote, an actor's background affects "how we see his or her performance." Hayes' co-star, Kristin Chenoweth, posted a rebuttal in the article's comments section, accusing Setoodeh — himself openly gay — of a "knee-jerk homophobic reaction" to gay actors. Is her criticism fair, or did Setoodeh have a point?
Plenty of gay actors play straight: "Of course not every actor is right for every role," says David Dean Bottrell in The Huffington Post. But it's simply wrong to generalize that gay actors can't play straight. Was Ian McKellen too gay in Lord of the Rings? It's "small-minded pot shot(s)" like Setoodeh's that make closeted actors hesitate to come out — they know they'll be accused of being "queeny" or "too butch" no matter how they act.
"Getting it Straight"
You only notice if you're looking: It's true it can be difficult to separate an actor's background from his performance, says Eric D. Snider in Cinematical. Some movies actively make jokey "meta-references" to their stars' personal lives. But whether an actor's offscreen sexuality is an issue depends on the viewer. Perhaps Setoodeh is "too preoccupied" with it to make an objective observation.
"Kristen Chenoweth vs. Newsweek on gay actors"
Chenoweth missed the point of my piece: This piece wasn't an "anti-gay" rant, says Setoodeh in a Newsweek response to the reaction. In fact, it was an attempt to "examine an issue that is being swept under the rug"—that is, why there are no openly gay Hollywood stars. I did feel Hayes let his sexual orientation get in the way of his performance, but that's just my "honest impression." Sorry if it caused offense.
"Out of focus"