Playing Against Type

The decision by Actors' Equity to forbid a white British star from portraying a Eurasian on Broadway may sink the musical Miss Saigon, but it revives old issues of fairness and competence. Daring casting has produced wildly mixed results:

Alec Guinness A PASSAGE TO INDIA. In David Lean's 1984 classic adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel, the British actor faithfully portrayed Professor Godbole, an ascetic Hindu wise man.

John Lithgow THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Cast as a transsexual former pro football player, Lithgow gave an unsmirking performance and won a 1982 Oscar nomination.

Laurence Olivier OTHELLO. The acting demigod was by...