Thursday, 21 July 2011

Richard III, Cross-gender Casting and Women's Ordination

Interesting radio on my way to Okotoks a few weeks ago. Jian Ghomeshi did an interview on cross-gender casting with Seanna McKenna, who is playing the evil King Richard in Richard III at Stratford this year, and Martha Henry, who plays Queen Margaret.

One comment that caught my ear is how when men play women it is seen as a bit of a laugh (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), but when women play men it is a much more serious (and often disturbing) matter. I suspect that's probably because when women play men it stirs up some power issues. Men have more to lose.

And all that made me think of the ordination of women controversy in the church. I realize I'm heading into potentially stormy territory here but consider this. Liturgy is very much like theatre. An Anglican presider most often follows a script—actually all presiders do, it's just that some are more improvisational than others. The presider is playing a role just as are Seanna and Martha in Richard III. As the role is played, the story of God's involvement with us is told, God gets worshipped, grace gets mediated and truth is learned and experienced.

The Bard wrote about the man Richard III, most often played by a man because he was one. Why cast a woman in the role? To stir the pot of meaning and truth in the play to see if there is more to be gleaned. Necessary? Not really. Helpful? Probably. Having a woman play Richard is legitimate artistic experimentation it seems to me, like seeing something familiar in 3D or in modern dress, or doing liturgy in a different way. It makes the story light up differently.

The Bible is about Jesus, who happens to be a man. To what extent does the ordained minister represent Jesus? Should a woman be cast in that role? Does it stir the pot of meaning and truth in the divine drama so that more meaning and truth can be gleaned, or does it just muddy the waters? Is that just something like cross-gender casting for Shakespeare, or something more?