Well, a play doesn’t actually consist of people, but we can let that pass. And I’m glad my student didn’t say “many different people reading different monologues”—so many of my students use “different” when they mean “various,” making the use of “different” to mean “different” difficult. “…eight actresses each reading a monologue” or “…four women performing eight separate monologues” would have been much better, of course. There’s nothing like being specific.
My student had attended a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues to fulfill a requirement for my Intro to Theater course, and liked it quite a bit. Here’s the initial description of the production:
“The play consisted of many different people reading various monologues revolving around the different characteristics of female gentiles.”
Note the return of “different.”
And of course, here’s that confusion, again, about words that begin with “gen” and have an “l” somewhere. The intended word might be “gentle” or “genital,” but the error of choice is “gentile.” Why is that?
Those of us who can actually distinguish among “gentle,” “genital,” and “gentile” get a good laugh out of this, though. A little comedy about male and female gentiles might work, in fact. What would the “different” characteristics of female gentiles be, I wonder? Different from male gentiles, or different from female non-gentiles?
Should we indulge in a few stereotypes? In northeastern U.S. culture, the most common usage of “gentile” is to mean “non-Jew,” and since we’d certainly want to open our play in the City (you shouldn’t need to ask which!), we might as well go with that regional choice. Would we concentrate on “different” physical features, such as coloring, profile, and voice, or would we rather emphasize speech styles? Holiday observances? Sports preferences? Would we dare draw on “Jewish” jokes and “blonde” jokes? I don’t really know. Which “different characteristics” would be most entertaining in our play? Would we cast two best friends, or two neighbors, or even two in-laws, one Jewish and one “gentile”? Would we focus on Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist Judaism? And for the gentile, would we go all the way with Episcopalian, or settle for Methodist or Unaffiliated or agnostic? Or would the point be the different characteristics of various female gentiles, leaving the contrasting non-gentile out? Would dialogues be more fun, or should we stick with the monologue idea?
If we do monologues, we’d better be sure they revolve around the characteristics of female gentiles. (And suddenly “revolve around” in connection with the word the student actually meant is making me blush…)
Drama, to reach its audience, should very clearly limn the specific—a specific character in a specific situation at a specific time and place—but in such a way that the audience can also simultaneously understand in broader, more inclusively resonant terms. American theater has many fine plays that present specific individuals in specific cultural circumstances, celebrating like Walt Whitman all the distinct examples that make up the rich variety of America, all the separate songs that interweave into our astounding chorale. There are some plays that seem to speak for, or define, a particular culture. On the modern stage, say “Jewish” and Neil Simon might come to mind; say “gentile” and someone is bound to reply “A.R. Gurney.” These are two of many, varied, examples.d
I’m not sure a vaguely-defined evening of revolving monologues about gentiles is really needed, no matter how much my student may have enjoyed it.