Princeton sophomore Roby Sobieski, the younger brother of actress Leelee Sobieski, is defending himself against charges that he is racist.
As reported by the Ivy League gossip source Ivygateblog.com, an administrator at the university’s Berlind Theater recently sent out a mass e-mail to dramatically inclined undergraduates seeking a prompter for the upcoming opening of Orange Woman, a play by senior Roger Quincy Mason about the life and times of Lucy Negro (a character loosely based on the Abbess of Clerkenwell, who some scholars believe was the inspiration for the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets). The e-mail directed interested parties to hit “reply all” in order to avoid confusion, and freshman KaYee Ivy Lau did just that, adding a perky emoticon for good measure.
Mr. Sobieski, 19, having woken up from a late night out on the town when he read the summons, responded with a cranky missive telling Mr. Lau she had a future in telemarketing. Reply-alls, he told the Transom by phone, “are a pet peeve of mine.”
The peppery Princetonian, who says he’s headed to an internship at New York magazine this summer, cited the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “prompter” and concluded that Ms. Lau was not likely to be a good one, given her predilection for reply-alling.
Online tabloid writer Maureen O’Connor called this “patronizing,” suggesting that Mr. Sobieski was reacting in part to “Ms. Lau’s foreign-sounding name.”
The listserv then lit up with passionate debate. Mr. Sobieski, an English major, was first attacked for his cruelty, then defended for his right to make a joke. “The thing that bothers me the most is that the writer who wrote this implied it was racist,” he said. “It might even be slander, what she is saying. I saw this e-mail clogging up my inbox and so I tried to make a joke and it failed. I’m half-French and went to a French high school in Los Angeles and we had to put fences up when France didn’t want to go into Iraq. I’m not going to attack someone for being international, when, like, a lot of my friends from high school were sons of diplomats and didn’t even speak English and spoke French.”
Still, Mr. Sobieski’s sister, best known for her role as a child prostitute in Eyes Wide Shut, apparently told him his e-mail was a boneheaded move. “I didn’t mean it in a personal way and I was trying to be funny,” he said. “I can understand that people are seeing me as a jerk in that context. I think it’s blowing a little out of proportion what it is.”
The incendiary Ivy Leaguer attended the closing-night performance of Orange Woman on Saturday, April 15, and is said to have the support of the playwright, who didn’t return calls for comment but is African-American and part-Asian, according to a source.
“When you are a student at Princeton you get on a lot of mailing lists,” Mr. Sobieski said. “I don’t like it.”