The Whiteness of “Anna Christie”

Eugene O’Neil’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Anna Christie” is a play in four acts about a woman, who is a prostitute, looking for redemption and a new life with her father, who’s a captain, and a man she falls in love with.

This play was recently put on by Working Barn Productions and seen on stage at the eco-friendly group The Wild Project in NYC. Their theatre space is very intimate. Part of their mission statement includes the word diverse: “The wild project is a theater, film, music, and visual arts venue that presents diverse, engaging, inspiring, and entertaining works to the vibrant and growing community of Alphabet City in New York’s East Village, while bringing together the artists and the environment in a unique way”.

When I see the word “diverse” I expect to see if reflected upon the stage by its actors. Granted they meant it as in the productions they produce. Many people will argue that “Anna Christie” is a period piece and therefore should reflect the time period and the given content. I, however, disagree. There is no reason why they could not have had actors of color playing these turn of the century characters.

For one thing, the show takes place here, back east. There were and still are a crap load of different types of people. Yes, Anna Christie is of Swedish decent, played by Therese Plaehn, and her love interest Matt Burke, played by Ben Chase, is Irish. However shouldn’t our art reflect the society we live in? Regardless if it’s a period piece or not. I for one would have loved to see a biracial Anna Christie. We don’t know what her mother looks like, all we know is her father is from Sweden and a man of the sea. Who’s to say he didn’t marry a woman of color? Who’s to say she wasn’t, black, Indian, Asian or Mideastern etc.

Or what about Johnny-The-Priest, played by Scott Aiello, or Marthy Owen

played by Tina Johnson? Was there not one actor of color out that could have played these roles?

My ranting is not directed at these performers. They are just like me and everyone else in this crazy business trying to do what they love. I am more disappointed in The Wild Project. You are a theatre in the East Village for crying out loud, and you have an amazing mission statement! I wanted to see that on the stage. The diverse beauty of New York City. And I’m even going to take this a step further, what about using actors with disabilities? Have I just blown your mind?

For you so-called “purists” who will argue and tell me I am wrong, let me set you straight. As long as the acting is done well and the direction true to the literature’s content, no one is gonna give a flying fuck if there is someone on stage playing Irish or Swedish that isn’t “white” and can’t walk on two legs.

Eugene O’Neil’s play is masterful dramaturgy and was quite groundbreaking at the time when this show was first produced in 1921. Because of this, I like to think Mr. O’Neil would agree with me. I am sure he and I would totally have been besties.

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