The Narrative That Never Changes
Arlene Violet is one of those iconic Rhode Island figures to whom we’re compelled to pay some level of attention, but I’d intended largely to ignore her musical about the mob. I’m sure there’s some novelty to it, and it’s probably well done, but with the Godfather movies, Goodfellas, Casino, The Sopranos, and the long list of movies and television shows, the turf has been very well explored.
The same characterization applies to this pretense related to a particular element of the plot:
At the same time, the tough U. S. Marshal in the show has his bad side, said Violet. In other words, no one in the show is all black or white, except perhaps the son, Renaldo, the aspiring opera singer who is gay. Garzilli called him the show’s “moral barometer,” the son every mother would love to have.
In most musicals in which there is a gay character, like “La Cage aux Folles,” audiences have to contend with what Violet called the “swish factor.” She finds that stereotype “counterproductive.”
“Maybe if people see a character like the son,” said Violet, “it will change the Rhode Island debate over same-sex marriage.”
The presentation of homosexuals as the best adjusted characters in a given production has been an entertainment-media cliché at least as far back as Melrose Place in the early ’90s. The movie American Beauty placed the well-adjusted gay couple in contrast to a severely dysfunctional neighborhood of heterosexuals. Even without much television in my daily routine, I can point to Glee, Modern Family, and some twentysomething show with a name I haven’t bothered to learn, but a plot that leaps off the screen in the time that it takes to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom.
In other words, the attempt to subversively present the one pure and admirable character in a cast as the gay character is not subversive at all, but a Hollywood cultural standard that appears to be layered on top of the multiple mafia standards of the musical. That’s fine, I suppose, inasmuch as the intention appears to be to stir up some not-very-original ideas in the still-novel medium of a stage musical. The interesting question that arises is whether it’s indicative of Baby Boomers’ inability to understand how the world has changed or of the continuing desire to squeeze a little more transgressively tolerant (yet completely safe) perfume from a nearly empty bottle.
That Violet apparently believes general familiarity with homosexuals to be so rare that a positive character in an off-off-Broadway musical might change people’s views on same-sex marriage suggests that both possibilities are strongly in play.