Queering the Territory: Redefining Community and Jud Fry in Twenty-First Century Revivals of Oklahoma!
In 2018, two American directors revived Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943), and in doing so, radically revised the musical’s rhetoric, dramaturgy, and characters. In a production for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bill Rauch shifted the gender identities of Curly McLaine, Ado Annie Carnes, Aunt Eller, and Andrew Carnes. This textual change introduced queerness into a famously heteronormative work, thereby abjuring the material history of heteropatriarchy in the United States. The revival, which also featured a multiracial ensemble, thus presented a utopic American landscape where systems of oppression never existed and historically marginalized populations were celebrated and empowered. Daniel Fish also challenged American metanarratives of justice through casting in a production staged at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. This revival also questioned assumptions about American identity and American progress by stripping away the musical’s bucolic setting and resituating its action in a distinctly contemporary milieu. Both productions defined community and queerness in relation to the musical’s presumed antagonist, Jud Fry. In Rauch’s production, Jud Fry was a symbol of heteronormative threat that must be eliminated to ensure queer futurity. In Fish’s production, the character represented a miscreant that exposed the territory’s inability to accommodate queerness. For this presentation, I use the scholarship of Jack Halberstam, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sarah Ahmed, Raymond Knapp, Bruce Kirle, Tim Carter, and Donatella Galella to analyze and assess how both revivals’ reconceived one character in order to revise Oklahoma! and redefine its community of territory folks. In addition to Musical Theatre Studies, the content engages the following fields: Women and Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, American History, and American Politics.
Theatre & Dance