Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mr. Wright

Neil LaBute's latest play, This Is How It Goes, has not gotten great reviews. It's a three-character work featuring Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet and, after a lengthy hiatus from the stage, Ben Stiller. Not having seen it, I can't comment.

Stiller is the big name here, and most reviews have focused on his performance. But The New Yorker critic, Hilton Als, concentrates on Jeffrey Wright.

Als believes Wright is a great actor, and I agree. While I haven't seen him in all the stagework Als has, Wright has done superb, protean work in films such as Angels In America (the TV version where he reprised his stage role), Shaft and Basquiat, to name a few. But Als wonders why Wright isn't a bigger star, and suggests it's because he's black.

Wright is a major name in theatre and has a successful film career. That's already better than 99% of his competitors. However, he's not (yet) among the handful of people we'd call movie stars. Guess what? Most people don't get to be movie stars. Do we really need Als to be insulted on Wright's behalf? I think we'd be better served by a review of the work at hand, rather than such pointless speculation.

Als notes the play
"...marks Wright’s ninth collaboration with [director George C.] Wolfe....It’s a partnership that equals that of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, early in their careers. That Wright and Wolfe are not as lauded says much about the limitations that race places on us, and, by extension, on our ideas about entertainment."
Nah, I'd say it's a lot more about Scorsese and De Niro working in movies that have been seen by hundreds of millions across the world, whereas Wright and Wolfe have mostly worked in a medium that has an audience of thousands mostly drawn from the New York metro area.


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