THE decision by Actors' Equity not to allow British actor Jonathan Pryce, a Caucasian, to play the role of a Eurasian on Broadway is misguided. The resulting decision by Cameron Mackintosh, producer of the London hit ``Miss Saigon,'' not to bring the already-sold-out show to New York, shows tough-minded artistic integrity.
The point Actors' Equity wants to make, however, is well-intentioned. For years, whites on Broadway and in Hollywood were made up as Asians, Indians, or other minorities - taking scarce and specialized jobs and often creating racist stereotypes in the process. Those days are mostly over. But Equity is nonetheless saying ``Never again.''
Yet they've chosen exactly the wrong case to make the point. Mr. Pryce's role of the ``Engineer'' in Miss Saigon is one he created and personifies.
What's more, the character is half Caucasion. Under what dictate is a white inappropriate to fill it? Why should a US union force that artistic choice? As Mr. Pryce says, ``If the character is half Asian and half European, you've got to drop down on one side of the fence or the other, and I'm choosing the European side.''
The union's action, described as a moral stand, may be illegal. British stars can't legally be banned from US theaters. Mr. Pryce, a Tony-award winner in 1976, is a star. Equity may also have been strong-armed since only half its members voted, and the vote was very close.
What's sad is not only the double standard involved, but also the lack of discussion. In the theater, it's a measure of the artistry of the actor to transcend roles.
US actor Richard Gere is currently filming a role as a Japanese-American. Acceptable?
Are black actors Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman never again to play Shakespeare's Richard III, or Petruchio? What about actress Linda Hunt, whose role as Billy Kwan, a Eurasian male dwarf in the film ``The Year of Living Dangerously,'' won an Academy Award? Is the actress now playing the role of King Lear to be banned?
We are against systematic bias, and job exclusion. But Equity's decision creates divisiveness, not real equal opportunity.