“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
–T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
I have a confession to make: Kermit the Frog is more “real” to me than any of the other Muppets. I remember when Jim Henson died, my first thought was not “What’s going to happen to the Muppets?” or “What’s going to happen with Sesame Street?” but “What’s going to happen to Kermit?”
So when news of the Schism broke, I was less concerned about Steve’s other characters than I was about Kermit. But as I processed the news, I started worrying about Beaker.
Since Beaker doesn’t really talk, I feared that Disney would feel that it didn’t matter who performed him. In fact, the opposite is true: a character who doesn’t talk needs a skilled, consistent performer who knows how to convey an idea nonverbally.
When I was an undergraduate, I had the distinct privilege and honor to perform in a play called Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire. (As an actor, to be clear; not a puppeteer…although there is a puppet in the play.) I played Gertie, a stroke victim who suffers from aphasia. I had one intelligible line in the entire play; the rest was all gobbledygook. (This actress plays it a little broad for my taste, but it will give you an idea.)
Because almost all of my lines were unintelligible, I had to really play the subtext. I had to know what I was saying at all times, even if nobody else did–especially if nobody else did. And I had to be really accurate in the nonsensical lines I was saying, because I knew that if I gave somebody the wrong cue, I didn’t have the improvisational skills to make up stroke-talk off the top of my head to get things back on track. It was one of the most challenging–and most enjoyable–things I’ve ever done in my life. I even ended up winning an award for it.
(For more thoughts on Fuddy Meers, click here.)
I imagine that playing Beaker would be similar to playing Gertie, except even more challenging. There is a logic and a syntax–a grammar of sorts–to Gertie’s speech, where Beaker mostly only says “mee mee mee.” As a human actor, I also had my facial expressions with which to convey emotion and meaning; Beaker’s face is not necessarily the most expressive of the Muppets’–especially compared to, say, Kermit’s.
So I worried about Beaker. But if I’m being completely honest, I have to say that part of me was kind of wishing that Disney would screw up Beaker’s recast, in the hopes that it might spark outrage in the more complacent Muppet fans. I’m not proud of wishing that.
But if there’s one thing that Disney is good at, it is doing wrong right. Reports out of the Hollywood Bowl concert are that David Rudman is playing Beaker. David Rudman, of course, has taken on the responsibility of performing most of Richard Hunt’s characters, and Beaker was originally performed by Richard Hunt as well, so that is…not entirely inappropriate.
To be clear: firing Steve was inappropriate; choosing David Rudman to replace him as Beaker was not inappropriate, although it wasn’t entirely appropriate either, since it was predicated and necessitated by the inappropriate act of firing Steve. If that makes sense.
Anyway, so far it’s been one performance. Time will tell how permanent that particular recast turns out to be.
(This was a fairly accurate representation of the comment section on the Muppet Pundit blog, at least until Steve’s recent “Pest ConTroll” efforts. Thanks again, Steve!)