Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Dance Party: The Culture Of Rape

I wish I had a clip of the production of Man of La Mancha in which I appeared.  Nancy O'Bryan as Aldonza broke your heart.
Not a very nice phrase, is it, "the culture of rape"?  The term has been tossed around a lot recently, most notably this week, as the notorious Steubenville case concluded.  Those animals were lucky to be tried in juvenile court, and deserve to be labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives, because that is what they are.
The little hamlet where these punks perpetrated their crimes has been called a real Football Town, where the high school players are treated as kings and they are protected from the consequences of their actions.  When the verdict was announced this week, one of them broke down into tears and moaned to his lawyer, "now no one will want me."  Was he worried that no woman would ever wish to spend her life with a sex offender?  No, he was worried that no FOOTBALL TEAM would want him.
Not a very pleasant subject for the Dance Party, is it?  I've been wondering this week how often violence against women has been featured as entertainment, and how rarely there are meaningful consequences for the perpetrators. 
The Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut Carousel has an abusive relationship at its center.  Billy Bigelow had a nasty habit of slapping around his gal, and even physically threatened his own daughter from the afterlife.
I seem to remember the film The Color Purple had a very violent streak, so I assume the musical version does, too.  Violence against women has always been dramatically titillating, I suppose, and the culture in which it seems acceptable has been around for a long, long, time.
Even if you've never watched a daytime soap in your life, you've heard of Luke and Laura.  This romantic duo from General Hospital are still on the show's canvas more than 30 years later.  Their wedding remains the highest rated episode in the history of daytime drama.  They landed on the covers of People and Newsweek and inspired the term "supercouple."  Know how their romance began?  He dragged her onto the floor of a disco and raped her.  But the chemistry between the actors was so strong, Luke was transformed into an offbeat hero.  Unbelievably, this is not the only instance in soap history when a rapist became so popular that he was reinvented as a leading man. General Hospital has TWO such anti-heroes.
That most famous of chamber musicals, The Fantasticks, features a "Rape Ballet," a comic sequence in which a kidnapping of the ingenue is staged.  Preceding that insensitively named segment, the score features a song which, for decades, was commonly called "the Rape Song." 

As Mortimer in The Fantasticks, I participated in the comically rendered "Rape Ballet." Even as a teenager in the 70s, I was uneasy with the way the writers bandied around that word. Didn't "rape" always mean sexual violence? Apparently the writers did not think so.
The lyrics repeated "rape" over and over, comedically, as a conman convinces the ingenue's father that the "rape" (his word) of his daughter will be a good thing.  "Rape is the proper term," El Gallo assured the dad.  "It's short and businesslike."

Or at least it was.  The creators of The Fantasticks, many many years too late, were convinced to change their offensive language;  all mention of rape has now been removed from the classic show.
In The Fantasticks, Schmidt and Jones did not intend a sexual meaning when they composed their Rape Ballet.  The fact that the sequence remained in the show, under that name, for decades, speaks volumes. (I wrote about The Fantasticks a while back and mentioned this issue.)
This week's Dance Party features a searing number from an old warhorse, Man of La Mancha.  This musical from the mid-60s did not shy away from violence;  this song is sung by the leading lady, a prostitute, immediately after she has been gang raped (mercifully, offstage). 
The classic Forsyte Saga had the unhappy marriage of Soames and Irene at its center. In an early catalytic episode
of the 1967  miniseries, Soames "asserted his marital rights," and raped his wife. By the end of the 26 hour series,
he had been transformed into a charming curmudgeon.
The Scarlett/Rhett relationship in Gone With the Wind is
more than tempestuous: it's violent. Here Rhett subdues his
wife and carries her upstairs against her will. But the next
scene alleviates the viewers' fears: Scarlett is humming in bed
while she enjoys the sunshine and breakfast on a tray. What
was the message being sent to women here? And to MEN?

There are many renditions of Aldonza available in video clips, it appears to be very attractive to female singers who really want to show some grit.  This clip comes from the disappointing film version of the show (when Peter O'Toole retired last year, another clip from the movie received the Dance Party treatment). 
I appeared in Man of La Mancha at Wayside Theatre several years ago.  Our Aldonza delivered an earthy performance; I wrote about it here. Her rendition of Aldonza was far superior to Sophia Loren's overplayed version below.
As far as I can tell, Sophia Loren was singing for herself (O'Toole was dubbed in his big numbers), as she fumbles several of the notes of this song.  I've got some problems with her overall performance anyway, but for this week, when violence against women is in the national consciousness, Aldonza is an appropriately timely clip.