How can young theater companies deal with the problem of age-appropriate casting?
Case in point: On Sunday I saw Richard II, the second production by a new group called Apex Theatre Company, composed largely of recent Northwestern grads. (Their first production, of Machiavelli's Mandragola, opened only a few weeks before.) It was a middling production—you can read my review at Time Out—but one of the most glaring problems for me was something that ought to be a minor issue: everyone in the cast was about 23 years old.
I refrained from bringing it up in my review because it seems a little unfair to upbraid a company of recent college grads for being, well, recent college grads. And yet: seeing a fresh-faced young actor named Pat King attempt to convince me that he, as John the Gaunt, was aged to the point of nearing death? Or that he was father to Galen Murphy Hoffman's Bolingbroke and uncle to Ben Diskant's King Richard, when both actors appeared to be the same age if not a year or two older than King? Every reference to his age or the familial relationships took me right out of the story; I didn't fare any better believing that Dan Sanders Joyce's Duke of York was the father to Sean Wesslund's Aumerle, since both were clearly born during the Reagan administration.
These actors are probably used to getting away with this in college productions. Audiences for those shows accept that they'll be seeing mostly young actors and they allow a little extra leeway in their suspension of disbelief. But when you venture out into the real world, under the auspices of a professional theater company at Theatre Building Chicago ticket prices, it gets a little harder to swallow.
What's to be done? There are only so many older actors who are available and willing to work for little pay in non-union shows. I've heard friends with theater companies complain that they can't keep casting the same actress in every over-40 role just because she's the only one they can find. But I'm loathe to suggest that young companies should choose shows they can cast appropriately, lest we end up with even more "I'm white and in my mid-20s and life sure is hard" plays than we already have. Is this a hang-up that I should get over, and learn to accept just like color-blind and gender-blind casting? I don't know the answer, but I'd like to hear some suggestions.