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Playwright Objects To Non-Hispanic Cast

Guirgis Decries Theaterworks' Response

By Frank Rizzo

December 01, 2011

Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is protesting the current Hartford production of his Broadway play -- "The Motherf**ker With the Hat" -- because the theater failed to seek out Puerto Rican actors in the leading roles.

Guirgis pasted a Facebook entry Wednesday objecting to the casting, calling it "indefensible" and asking his online friends to share "my head-shaking anger."

Guirgis says he was unaware of the casting of the Hartford production -- the first by a regional theater since the Broadway run ended earlier this year -- until it was brought to his attention last week by the Hispanic actors' group, HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors).

In a telephone interview Wednesday Guirgis says he was dissatisfied by the response from the theater's leadership, saying that it made no effort to bring in Hispanics for the leading roles of Jackie and Veronica, a dysfunctional and volatile Puerto Rican couple. The casting notice, he says, made no reference to the leading characters being Puerto Rican, though it does state a supporting character is Puerto Rican.

Guirgis, who is not Latino, says the leading characters were written as Puerto Ricans, not white. On Broadway they were portrayed by Bobby Cannavale of Italian-Cuban heritage and Elizabeth Rodriquez. (The show also featured Chris Rock.)


But Guirgis says it was the theater's response that made him most angry, saying artistic director and founder Steve Campo took no personal responsibility in the failure to reach out to Hispanic actors and his lack of answering to the playwright's objections as soon as he raised them.

Guirgis says he appreciated a letter to him Saturday by the play's director, Tazewell Thompson, who is an African American, which called the casting "indefensible." In Thompson's letter, the director says he put Ben Cole and Clea Alsip , with whom he worked when they were students at New York University, after he was "unable to cast the actors that he saw."

"[I] didn't give the play the time it needed to cast the actors it culturally required."

In a letter written Monday to respond to Guirgis, Campo wrote that he trusts Thompson, described a "nightmarishly tiny window" to cast the show and cast "the very best actors available."

Campo added in the letter: "In the future TheaterWorks will certainly seek and take advantage of all available resources to more effectively reach out to Latino theater artists, especially when obviously appropriate roles are available."

Guirgis, who is also a co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, was not pleased with the response and responded to Campo Tuesday: "I would have been wholly satisfied if you could have simply acknowledged your part in this ... little drama which actually isn't so little at all."

Guirgis says because his attempt to deal with the issue "in-house" failed, he had no choice but to go public with the Facebook posting Wednesday

Thompson was not available Wednesday because he was in transit from South Africa.

On Wednesday, Campo says he stands by Thompson, who has directed several shows at the theater during the past two years. "I trust him as a director and as an artist and would not second-guess him...The actors on stage were the best that were available to him."

"It really pains me that there is a much distress about this situation," Campo says,


Guirgis says he takes no pleasure in speaking out against the production. "I know my plays are fiery and controversial, but that's not what I'm like in real life," says Guirgis. "I'm not an activist and I never want to upset anybody. But in this case it was just obvious. All I wanted [Campo] to say was, 'We [expletive] up -- and they wouldn't do that.

"If after Latino actors auditioned and the director felt compelled to cast a white actor because he was the best, I'd be hard-pressed to say let's cast the Latino actor. But in this case, they did something that was not very smart, sensitive, and I think they assumed they could get away with it. This from a theater in a city with a Puerto Rican mayor."

The Hartford run, which began Oct. 14, ends Sunday. Guirgis says another regional production is planned for Miami, and a Los Angeles production with the Broadway cast is being considered.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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