There is indeed cause to rejoice, as gay marriage is finally legal throughout all of the United States. However, the fight for equality is far from over. There are plenty of arenas besides the marital in which people have been lobbying for the right to discriminate against gays. (Bear with me; I promise this goes to a happy place.)
Over the last year or two, the U.S. has seen an influx of “religious freedom” laws, which are really just anti-gay laws with innocent, pro-rights labels slapped on them (‘cause the “Fuck the Queers Act” would be offensive). This new legal fad grants the right to both private businesses and government institutions to deny service to anyone based on the proprietor’s religious beliefs or convictions. So, if you, a business owner, find homosexuality to be an affront to your religion, good news! You don’t have to sell your wares to those wicked gays, who will probably just use them to do gay things anyway. Evil gay things.
Far more people than should be necessary have already pointed out the similarity between these laws and early twentieth century segregation laws (but I’m gonna do it anyway: they’re just like early twentieth century segregation laws). As of December of last year, there were 19 states that had already implemented laws of this nature.
Among the many states debating the virtues of such legislation is Oklahoma, which has seen a slew of proposals for anti-gay laws in the last half year. Among the more colorful/infuriating are one bill that states that parents “may obtain [gay conversion] counseling or therapy for their children under eighteen…years of age without interference by the state,” and another that declares “[n]o employee of this state…shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pension or other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state.”
Now, granted: none of these proposed bills (to the best of my knowledge) has hit the books yet, and there are many citizens of Oklahoma--both politician and Average Joe/Jane--who are fighting each of these proposals tooth-and-nail. But, with your indulgence, I’m gonna pick on Oklahoma for a moment, because I think that it’s time that a statement be made. I would like to, in a manner of speaking, burn these anti-gay, pro-discrimination assholes in effigy. And to do so, I have a proposal of my own: I propose we get rid of “Oklahoma!,” the musical.
Hear me out on this.
Cliché though it may be, the world of the theatre--and musical theatre most stereotypically--has been a haven for the LGBT community as well as all liberally-minded individuals. And one of the staples of musical theatre is Rogers and Hammerstein’s quaint little tail of rural idiocy, “Oklahoma!” Not only is the show named for (and set in) a state that as of late has been turning its back on gays and those who love them (me!), but it is, when analyzed, a celebration of antiquated values, questionable morals, and frightening stupidity.
For those who have never seen "Oklahoma!" or who only have vague memories of it, let me familiarize you with the loose string of events the show calls a plot.
Firstly, there are two morons, Curly and Laurey, who have the hots for each other but won’t admit it, which pretty much does away with any mystery as to whether or not they’re going to get together. There’s a big dance/auction/thing coming up that all the yokels in town are going to attend. Curly says something stupid that makes Laurey upset, and so, to get back at him, she promises to go to the shindig with the rapey-looking farm hand. Honestly, from the moment he walks on stage, this guy has the words Sex Offender not written, not tattooed, but emblazoned on his forehead. The letters shine like white gold. And if he were to unbutton his shirt, we’d see “They’ll never find your body” glimmering on his chest.
And Rapey McGee is burning for Laurey. This guy clearly creeps around after her and collects fallen strands of her hair, which he then smuggles back to his little shack by the barn wherein he has a built shrine dedicated to her, the center of which is a life-size Laurey doll made from hair and semen. And Laurey decides, “I’ll make Curly jealous by going with him to the dance. Tee-hee.”
Later on, when Laurey can’t decide between the handsome guy and the dude who’s going to be fucking her loooong after he’s killed her, she decides to solve her dilemma by taking opium and going on a vision quest (you only think I’m making that up.) The climax to Act 1 is Laurey hallucinating that she’s a ballerina and that Rapey McGee kills Curly right in front of her. And she STILL goes to the dance with him. Stupid twat.
While all this is going on, there’s a subplot involving another young lady named Ado Annie. Ado Annie is a slut. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, I’m just calling it how it is. She has a whole song called “I Cain’t Say No,” (no, not Can’t; Cain’t) in which she proclaims that any man who offers her a kind word immediately wins a free parking spot for his dick in her mouth. Now, were she just a young lady living it up with a few different guys, I’d have no qualms with her. But she thinks that everyone man with an eye for her naughty parts wants to marry her. We first see her with a traveling salesman (and, we later learn, drug dealer) named Ali Hakim, who obviously hits up every naïve bimbo in every town with the same tired pickup lines. But Ado Annie is convinced that this worldly gentleman has wedding bells in his ears. This place has the most sexually-uneducated women on the planet. As a result, Ado Annie’s father forces Hakim into a shotgun wedding engagement with his daughter.
Then there’s Will, who genuinely does want to marry Ado Annie. Will’s just returned from Kansas city, where his tiny rural brain has been all but liquefied by all the modern advancements they have, including cars, telephones, burlesque theatres, and indoor plumbing. While over yonder, he managed to procure fifty dollars (it’s never explained how; I like to believe he robbed a bank while disguised as an old lady), of which he’s particularly proud. Why? Because Ado Annie’s father said Will could marry his daughter if he ever managed to get himself fifty dollars--meaning, if Will ever proved that he could be financially responsible enough to care for his daughter. Which Will clearly isn’t. Because while he did at one time have the coveted fifty dollars, he then went and spent it all on gifts for his not-bride-to-be. While Ado Annie’s father lives in the Middle Ages, I can’t blame him for not letting this pig-fucker marry his little girl.
Finally, we get to the big barn dance, or whatever the fuck it is. They have an auction which is tantamount to sex trafficking. All the women have prepared picnic baskets that the men are bidding on to raise money for this newfangled thing called a schoolhouse (no one knows what it is, but they’ve heard it rocks). Let’s not kid ourselves here. The men aren’t bidding on a picnic basket. They’re bidding on a picnic with the lady who made the basket. And they’re not really bidding on a picnic with the lady--they’re bidding on a night of the sweet tender warmth they typically only get from the local farm animals.
In a desperate attempt to get out of his shotgun wedding, Ali Hakim buys all of Will’s useless junk from him for fifty dollars. Hurray! So, when the time comes to bid on Ado Annie’s basket (pussy), Will, the crack baby that he is, announces his newfound wealth by bidding it on the basket. Seriously, if these two ever get married (and spoiler alert: they do), she’s gonna be turning tricks just to make ends meet because hubbie is constantly blowing every dime they have on shiny rocks from the streetwise kids up the road. But, Mr. Hakim races in and saves the day (and his own bachelordom) by outbidding Will, winning the basket and ridding himself of the doe-eyed leech.
At long last, it’s time to bid on Laurey’s basket (asshole). This is the climax of the show, as Curly and Jud (that’s Rapey McGee’s real name, by the way: Jud. That man’s mother named him Jud. After hours of agonizing childbirth, she was clearly so furious with him for not being stillborn that she said, “Fuck you, kid. Your name is Jud,”) go toe-to-toe trying to outbid each other with such ferocity that it can only prove my sex trafficking theory. No one in their right mind would be blowing so much money on a basket of mystery food. There could be nothing in that thing but a half-eaten tuna sandwich. On white bread. The black sheep of all breads.
Jud has been saving up every dime he has to make sure he can win this auction, forcing Will to sell all his worldly possessions in order to raise the money to beat him. Either Curly is a true hero, sacrificing everything he has in order to save his lady love from the proto-Jeffery Dahmer, or he is an idiot with a capital I-D-I-O-T for driving himself to poverty over a half-eaten tuna sandwich.
So, Curly wins the auction, as you may have guessed two hours ago, and he and Laurey finally make the realization that they are meant for each other, which, if they’d just done at the beginning of the play when they fucking should have, could have spared everyone the hallucinogenic drug trips and Curly’s newfound status as a homeless man.
In short order, Curly and Laurey are married. Then Jud, proving that he can be just as stupid as everyone else, simply walks up and tries to stab Curly. In front of everyone. Like he was ever going to get away with that. It’s slightly better in the film version, where he tries to set both Curly and Laurey on fire. That makes him insane, which I can totally dig in a villain. In the play, however, he’s just retarded.
A scuffle ensues, and Jud ends up being slain by his own dagger. Poetic justice at its most uninteresting.
A side-note to anyone who may perform this play in the future: please, for the sake of those of us who’ve suffered through the last two hours, Grand-Guignol the fuck out of this scene. Let Curly stab Jud in the gullet, then try to pull the blade out, but instead of pulling it straight back, he tries to pull it up and ends up accidentally gutting Jud like a fish. Jud’s ribcage snaps open like a kitchen cabinet and all his vital organs spill out onto the stage floor. Then as the others rush to lend medical aid, they just end up slipping and sliding on his viscera in a scene of madcap slapstick that would do the Marx Brothers proud. Seriously, we need it at this point.
So, now a murder has taken place. Now, it’s barely possible to prove that the stabbing was even intentional; and even if it was, it was clearly in self-defense. This is an open-and-shut case, I admit. Nevertheless, some kind of legal action must be taken. Fortunately, one of the yokels on hand happens to be a judge, and they throw together a trial for Curly--with no arraignment, no lawyers, and not an unbiased witness or juror within a ten mile radius--and settle the whole affair in ten minutes. That’s how the show ends, folks! We can’t let something as arbitrary as the law get in the way when these two people are in love. (Ooh! Irony!)
So, the legal system is shoved aside in order to rush the newlyweds off on their honeymoon. Seriously, what kind of honeymoon are these two going to have? The groom just killed a man on their wedding night. Does anyone expect them to actually have sex tonight? They should spend the evening in bed together holding each other and crying. Curly has seen into the abyss of a dying man’s eyes, and he comes out the other end smiling. The future does not look good for these two. I can imagine them at the bridal bed, Curly still clutching Jud’s blade in his fingers, quietly asking, “Can I take this into bed with us?” Years of heavy S&M are bound to follow, each depraved encounter less and less satisfying as Curly yearns for that mad rush he felt as he plunged a knife into another man’s innards, until one night he’s found dead in a closet, having accidentally hung himself while trying to perform autoerotic asphyxiation.
Anyone should be able to see that this show is a glorification of thoughts and values that are not only long out of date, but, taken to their extremes, very dangerous. People view these characters and their neanderthalic hijinks as quaint, the way one laughs at a toddler who tries to walk through a sliding glass door (don’t even pretend that you don’t). After all these years of societal progress, there’s no one in this show left to relate to. It doesn’t speak to us. All it has to offer is a reminder of a past that we should be happy to be getting further and further away from.
So, what? Do we get rid of this classic of the American theatre altogether? Of course not. We adapt it into something new. I suggest that a team of writers and lyricists put their heads together and rewrite this show to reflect more contemporary values, and set it in a state more worthy of its own musical: Massachusetts!
Why Massachusetts? First of all, it was the first state to legally sanction gay marriage. But much more than that, it’s a sparkling gem of industry, education and American progress. It’s where the passengers of the Mayflower established the first American colony; before the Civil War, it was staunchly anti-slavery; it’s home to Harvard University, the country’s oldest institution of higher education; it was the site of Shay’s Rebellion, which ultimately helped lead to the creation of the American Frickin’ Constitution; in short, it’s in dire need of its own fucking musical!
As this is, in essence, an adaptation, “Oklahoma!” will serve as the basis of the new show’s plot, but there will be some radical changes. First of all, we're renaming our male lead. Curly isn't a name, it's a hair style. He will be renamed Thaddeus. Secondly, we're resexing our female lead. The name Laurie can stay, but it's a nickname for Laurel.
Thaddeus and Laurie are two young, bright individuals who have known each other since childhood. They have only recently shared a night of passion, and while Thaddeus is totally down for a serious relationship, Laurie, being of a Catholic upbringing (of which his Aunt Eleanor is a constant reminder), fears that their romance is sinful.
Laurie turns to a family friend for advice. This is the Jud character, only we’re not calling him Jud. He will be Judge Virgil--the title of Judge being a nod to his former name, and Virgil for the ancient Roman poet who, in the Divine Comedy, resides in the first level of Hell, the circle of the unbaptized and people not of the “correct” faith. The French critics will get it.
Judge Virgil advises Laurie to deny these impure impulses. However, the Judge is, himself, a closeted homosexual, and secretly lusts for Laurie. Unwilling to reveal his true nature to the world, however, the Judge rallies several of his rightwing buddies to support a proposed Religious Freedom Act that will do all the stupid shit that religious freedom acts do. Feeling that this is what God would want, Laurie joins the movement, to Thaddeus's heartbreak and dismay.
Meanwhile, Annie (we're cutting the Ado) works part-time in an abortion clinic, while working to earn her master’s degree in business finance. Her long-term boyfriend William is eager to get married and settle down, but Annie wants to wait until she’s out of school and has started the path to her career. William, however, is an old-school, patriarchal, missionary position type of guy, and he’s not so interested in having a wife with a career. He sees himself as the breadwinner and Annie as the baby maker. While Annie is dead set on pursuing her dreams, she’s nervous that she’ll lose William if she waits too much longer.
On the other end of the spectrum from William is Annie’s lesbian friend, Ally. Ally’s the kinda girl who’s never had her tongue in the same vagina twice. She enjoys getting high, picking up ladies, and not thinking past tomorrow. Annie comes to Ally for advice after a fight with William. As Ally expounds on her life philosophy of non-commitment, the two ladies, spurred on by marijuana, draw closer to each other, and suddenly--oops!--hot lesbian sex!
Don't think we're cutting the drug-induced Act 1 finale. Oh, no. After seeing so many of his LGBT friends in an uproar over the proposed religious bullshit act, Laurie begins to have second thoughts. He meets Judge Virgil at the judge's luxuriant abode, where Virgil offers him a drink. As Laurie expresses his reservations, he becomes lethargic, and falls into a deep sleep. The dance sequence that ensues will be a beautiful nightmare of such brain-liquefying surrealism that it will make Tim Burton cum. Seraphim and cherubim hover above the audience, lamenting as a Red Demon Judge condemns Thaddeus to be burned alive at the stake (a reference to the state’s darker, less educated history), while Laurie can only look on and weep (and dance) in despair. As the Red Demon Judge’s minions set Thaddeus ablaze, the villain turns on Laurie, and the two engage in a vicious but tasteful dance interpretation of a rape. Laurie then awakens on the bed in the Judge's boudoir, the Judge sitting in a chair off to one side, icily silent, smoking a cigarette. Curtains on Act 1.
Act 2 focuses on the impending local court ruling on the proposed Religious Freedom Act. Replacing the sex slave auction of the original musical, the court ruling sees all the main characters turning out to speak their piece on the matter. William is frustrated by Annie’s desire to attend the event, feeling that it’s of no relevance to them because they are not gay. Annie finally decides to leave William, fearful about pursuing her future alone, but knowing that she cannot be tethered down. As it turns out, however, she doesn’t need to go it alone after all. Ally, inspired by Annie’s passion and dedication, has fallen in love with her, and makes her first long-term commitment to another woman. Neither of them know if their relationship will last forever, but they know two things for certain--they love each other for the moment, and more hot lesbian sex!
The court ruling is nigh. The LGBT members and their supporters make a passionate plea for the Religious Freedom Act to be rejected, however the law-savvy Judge Virgil trounces them in the eyes of the legislators with his legal rhetoric. The law is about to be put into effect when Laurie arrives and pronounces her love for Thaddeus (in song, of course). The judge is enraged by the betrayal, and in his ensuing tirade against homosexuals and their sinful nature, it accidentally comes to light that he is gay himself.
Instead of showing him hatred, Thaddeus and the others try to welcome Virgil into their community, and show him that there’s nothing wrong with following one’s own heart. Refusing to listen, the self-loathing Judge Virgil takes his own life, symbolizing the inevitable self-annihilation this country faces if it continues to try to suppress the deepest-rooted emotions of its citizens. And don't think for a second that this suicide is going to happen offstage. Oh, no. This moment will be the show's major set piece; its helicopter, its barricade, its falling chandelier. The Judge will douse himself in kerosene and set himself ablaze, a literal representation of the inferno to which he has condemned himself. And as the ensemble looks on in horror, Judge Virgil proceeds to sing a heart-wrenching eleven o'clock number WHILE ON FIRE, rushing about the stage and spreading the flames to every inch of the set in a glorious display of purgatorial destruction that only Julie Taymor could realize.
Then a chorus line of beefy firemen arrive and put out the blaze.
In light of these events, the court rejects the proposed legislation. Everyone rejoices as love triumphs, as it only can in…
Copyright Micah Delhauer, 2015