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"No More All-Black Productions Of Tennessee Williams Plays If No All-White Productions Of August Wilson"

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 14, 2012 4:38 PM
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Streetcar cast

It happens in theater too...

Stars of the Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named DesireBlair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker are speaking out against critics of the multi-racial production who have challenged this incarnation of the Tennessee William' drama for that very reason - its non-white cast..

The revival is produced by Stephen C. Byrd and Alia M. Jones of Front Row Productions, who were also behind the all-black cast revival of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway 4 years ago - a trend that some apparently aren't too thrilled about.

Specifically, veteran theatre critic John Lahr of New Yorker magazine, whom Underwood and Parker single out for his December 2011 piece, in which he stated:

"No more infernal all-black productions of Tennessee Williams plays unless we can have their equal in folly: all-white productions of August Wilson."

What Underwood and Parker may not realize is that Lahr has been a staunch critic of all-black productions of *white* plays for some time; I recall his 2009 review of an all-black cast interpretation of Arthur Miller's 1949 stage play, Death Of A Salesman at the Yale Repertory Theatre, in New Haven, CT.

Lahr starts his review with a quote from late African American playwright, August Wilson, as the basis of his core argument that, replacing the Jewish Willy Loman with an African American in Charles S. Dutton, is to "change something elemental in the nature of the play’s lament." The 1996 August Wilson quote he appropriated reads as follows:

“To mount an all-black production of a ‘Death of a Salesman’ or any other play conceived for white actors... is to deny us our own humanity, our own history, and the need to make our own investigations from the cultural ground on which we stand as black Americans... It is an assault on our presence, and our difficult but honorable history in America; and it is an insult to our intelligence, our playwrights, and our many and varied contributions to the society and the world at large.”

Strong words.

Recall Wilson's "I Want A Black Director" op-ed which I've shared on this blog in the past; this is certainly very much in-line with that.

And Lahr continues to sing the same tune as he did back then... essentially, no more all-black productions of black plays unless whites can do the same with August Wilson's all-black plays.

But while I understand Wilson's lament, I don't entirely agree with it.

If his above argument (and Lahr's criticism) was centered on the dearth of representations of black people, the lack of stories telling of our varied experiences, the absence of the adaptations of the works by black playwrights compared to their Caucasian contemporaries -  in sum, to borrow from Ralph Ellison, our overall invisibility within the performance theatre milieu - that's one wagon I'm willing to jump on.

But that's not the argument being made here. I wouldn't say that mounting all-black productions of plays conceived by and for white actors was a denial of our humanity, our history, and an assault on our presence, or insult to our intelligence.

That (and in essence Lahr's lament) sounds extreme to me, but I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise.

We have had, and continue to have similar conversations with respect to cinema, as suggested in the very first sentence of this post.

Wilson's argument insinuates that there is indeed a unique "black experience" and a unique "white experience," and the two are so markedly different that there are no intersections where both meet. But I feel that only further encourages the thinking that we are one singular monolithic group, which we aren't.

What do you think?

Obviously, a work like Roots, a uniquely African experience, set in a specific time period, certainly wouldn't mean the same thing if the characters were all white. It simply wouldn't exist.

Or a tale on the Jewish Holocaust and its aftermath simply wouldn't work with an African American cast.

Of course, one could surpress the actual events themselves, and instead focus on the very essence of brutal oppression that both groups of people have in common historically; and in that case, the color of the skin of the players wouldn't matter.

This takes us back to that age-old discussion we've had periodically on how to define "blackness," or the proverbial "black experience," or "black stories," or "black film" - all labels that simply cannot be readily given meaning to. Are there stories/experiences that are uniquely "black" and others that are uniquely "white" that wouldn't work in the reverse? Does emphasizing those differences help or hinder our collective progression, especially in this so-called (false) "post-racial" Obama era that we keep hearing about?

The synopsis for Death Of A Salesman describes it as:

... a play about a "middle-aged salesman who is no longer able to earn a living. He receives only a small commission as he ages, and he slowly loses his mind and attempts to kill himself by inhaling gas from the water heater or from crashing his car. He spends most of his time dreaming instead of actually acting. He is obsessed with achieving the so-called "American Dream" - one that he never fully realizes, as he does kill himself in the end."

I've never read nor seen Miller's play, so I'm not an expert on the work, but based on the above description, is that so uniquely a "white experience" that it's completely outside the scope of a black man's experience?

You can read the rest of the New Yorker review HERE. I'd love to read all your thoughts on the questions posed here, as these are all ideas that I myself struggle with from time to time.

Blair Underwood posted the following on his Facebook page as an added response to critics of the play's multi-racial casting:

Once you know your history and know that there was indeed a culture of people (in the 1700s), endemic to Louisianna called the "gens de colour libre," or "free people of color," and that these people owned plantations & some actually owned their own slaves, there is no basis to dismiss the backstory of our Dubois sisters who hail from their family owned plantation called Belle Reeve. Or to dismiss the part of the story where Blanche Dubois pines for an oil millionaire called Shep Huntleigh. If these dismissive Nay Sayers knew their history, they would know that there were a number of black people that owned oil wells in the 30s & 40s.... As long as we stay in our place & do only the great "Black" classics, like Fences, Porgy & Bess, A Raisin In The Sun, etc. your artistry will be lauded & touted, (as it should be), but if you dare step into the deified realm of Tennessee Williams, expect profound resistance & resentment. We are not being judged based on the work. It is the "power of the idea," that seems to unnerve the "elite;" the idea that people of color could produce & perform Tennessee Williams and do it well. The beauty in all of this is that when an ideas time has come it cannot & will not be ignored!

Props to him for penning that, but lemme jump in here real quick and say, seriously, no disrespect to Tennessee Williams, but we don't have to reimagine his works with black casts, because we DO have *our* own original plays about black people, written by black playwrights, begging to be given the full stage treatment, whether on Broadway or off. There's absolutely no need to prove *ourselves* to anyone by performing plays originally written by and about white characters, is there? Not that I'm against these adaptations. I'm glad that we live in a time when this actually can happen.

My point is just that there's a plethora of work out there, set in both historical and contemporary times, that already tell stories that revolve primarily around the lives of black people. We've seen 2 of them on Broadway in the last 2 seasons - The Mountaintop (written by Katori Hall) and Stick Fly (written by Lydia R. Diamond) - the latter is up for a Tony Award

Producer Stephen Byrd (one of the very few African-American producers on Broadway) should maybe consider leaving Tennessee Williams alone for his next production and, uh, come back home, if you catch my drift.

But I get it; I understand; it's all about the bottomline, with his goal likely being to limit his risk by focusing on brand-name properties, and performers - the goal being to fill as many seats as possible, with as diverse an audience as possible.

In a recent Wall Street Journal Piece, Byrd was quoted as saying: "I'd be somewhat reluctant to go out with an unknown play... You get a double bite of the apple... You get people who want to see 'Streetcar.' And you get people who just want to see Blair," adding that "there's a group between Tyler Perry fans and August Wilson fans that hasn't been tapped," and his goal is to reach that specific audience.

So I'd say expect to see more productions with marketing materials billing them first as "An All-black Production Of..."

And with that, critics like John Lahr will continue to criticize, while August Wilson turns in his grave.

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  • V.Steele | October 9, 2012 12:49 AMReply

    How thin do you slice the apple.? Most theatrical stories are hitting for "universal" truths. I would never suggest biographical and historical piece that a Black male should play John F. Kennedy or Adolf Hitler. But should a White Jewish actor play a Italian or a White English actor play an American White Southerner for example? It would be considered absurd to slice the apple that thin. There would be an outrage that they're actors beyond their country of origin or ethnicity.Good-bye Vin Diesel you're all over the place, good bye Dwayne Johnson , not quite Black enough. Shirley MacClaine bring your ass back to reality you're not British and shouldn't be on Dowtown Abbey. And we all damn know that Cleopatra didn't look like Liz Taylor. If this guy Lahr has such a grievance he should go see the play, because he can't see the humanity obviously.

  • J. Scott N. | October 4, 2012 1:48 PMReply

    I actually would love to see an all-white cast do an August Wilson play on Broadway. Imagine the controversey and publicity. It should have been done along time ago! But we all know that will never happen because Broadway is what it is.

  • S. B. Moseley | September 27, 2012 11:18 AMReply

    We can mull over this stuff until the end of this earth, but it all boils down to the desire for acceptance. We as people of color always feel that we have to prove that we are just as good if not better than our white counterparts. We always use them for some sort of measuring stick to show our worth in society as people. The problem is not them it is us as a people. We need to stop worrying about them and what they think. Trust me, they don't really care about what we think. They just go on creating and doing the things that they want to do, as should we. We feel as though we need their acceptance to truly progress in no matter what we do, but that is not true. They are the world's minority, but are looked upon as the standard of achievement success and beauty all over the world because we have been so conditioned to believe that it is so. The reason why we continue to recreate their stories with casts other than those that the writer had written them for is because we want to show them that we too can play these parts just as well, if not better. I feel that their are wonderful stories to be told through the eyes of all people celebrating our cultural differences and similarities. I watch films from all over the world (some are good and some are bad) but I appreciate the experiences through their eyes and their voices and I get it from an aspect of simply being human. We don't have to remake stories with different looking people just create material that tells the stories of all people and be welcoming to them.

  • Jay | August 29, 2012 2:52 AMReply

    I love the idea of "it doesn't matter what skin color you are, audition for this role!" actually existing. I know this is a little different from the actual topic, but since I'm studying to be an actress, I've noticed a few things about stage and screen. The appearance of black women is not common in 'diverse' productions. I love diversity - it shows unity within human society by having all races come together and just have fun. I love it. But then I see the all white cast or the all black cast and I think "There has to be a reason for that". I mean, the world doesn't come in one color. But anyway, I'm so worried about my own chances not just as an attempting actress, but as being BLACK and being FEMALE. Two aspects that have been through a good amount of historical struggle. It's hard to believe casting directors seriously don't already have it in mind as to what their female character's skin color is going to be. It then may come down to what hair color/style, eyes, etc. But the skin? Perhaps that was already decided. I hope I'm wrong on that thought, but with seeing very little roles where black women are the secret agents and love interests to white partners makes me think diversity is not welcomed. That the popular girl in school can't possibly be black, or the girl with the super powers. No, these roles/genres seems to be reserved for whites only, and that's just based on what I see, really. Not fact. Just the impression I get. Of course there has been black females playing those roles, but forever one there is about 10 whites you name that has done the same. In my head, I see my chances as 100 percent equal as any other girl. In reality, I'm not so sure that's true.

  • Bfrank | June 4, 2012 1:14 AMReply

    Shouldn't matter the color of the cast unless it's the Halocaust or something like Roots. Those who are blessed with the opportunity to breathe life into those characters on that stage are applying their craft. If the performances are will stand. Nuff said.

  • dj | June 3, 2012 9:30 AMReply

    Let me get this straight. You have never read, or seen a production of, Death Of A Salesman, one of the most influential plays of the twentieth-century, but you feel no qualms about writing an article concerning a controversial casting choice thereof. Are you familiar with the word hubris and the part it plays in the Greek conception of tragedy? Rule #1: Write about what you know.

  • Tishuan Scott | May 21, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    The reality Tambay and ALL, is that Wilson's words ring very true as do Lahrs'. We [African-Americans] have volumes of literary plays that we should, and need to be performing that date all the way back to 1847. There are two volumes that hold these works, BLACK THEATER USA Volumes 1 & 2. There is Wole Soyinka's DEATH AND THE KING'S HORSEMAN. We are missing the essence of our own writings. DuBois focused this in his conversations about Art and Negroes; theater must be near us, for us, about us and by us. With that said, I did attend a performance of CAT on Broadway with James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad and I loved it. This speaks to the talent of the actors. I would just as soon be thrilled to watch them perform in any of the plays from BLACK THEATER USA. I do not have an interest in seeing STREETCAR with a Black cast.

  • Michele Antoinette | May 19, 2012 9:09 AMReply

    I just wanted to say, I understand what writers are trying to say when they refer to jewish as white..different from black but I think the world needs to realize that there is a large portion of Black jews all across the world---who were born jewish, didn't convert. There is also a lost tribe in Africa said to have a high frequency occurrence of the Cohanin/cohen gene---yes they are black, yes they are jewish. I think in the future we may want to stress white jewish instead of simply saying jewish as if blacks can't be jewish, look at whoopi goldberg for starters..then work your way back.

  • lloyd | May 18, 2012 9:28 PMReply

    When Helen Morgan, Ava Gardiner , Angelina Jolie and Jeanne Crain played the roles of mixed race women I do not recall a hue and cry at how this lessen African American humanity by white critics at the time. When studio bosses ordered that Freddie Washington, an extremely light skinned Black actress, should have her skin was darkened with makeup so not to confuse or offend white southern theatre goers from thinking she was a white actress playing alongside Paul Robeson in ‘Emperor Jones’ did Mr Lhar’s father, a noted Broadway actor (Fred Lhar) and contemporary protest in support of this degrading treatment of his fellow Black thespians? What lessens out humanity is apartheid of the mind that lacks the scope and vision to look beyond the colour of the author and of that of the actors who give life to their work. Tennessee Williams, as a gay man, and a minority, should have understood better than most the need to resist those who wish to place limitations and restrictions upon others. May I remind Mr Lhar that there are black Jews whose ancestry goes as far back as their white counterparts so his argument in terms of an all black cast in a Death of a salesman’ is made redundant by this fact. Some might argue the real syntax behind his complaint is lets keep white plays for white folks and how dare you black actor aspire to play the classics. Why should a Black actor only restriction themselves to playing the black classics-hell I thought Jim Crow was long dead and buried. Finally, well done to Blair Underwood for his eloquent and thoughtful response

  • Said in Los Angeles | May 15, 2012 11:05 PMReply

    I wanted to see the play that Spike Lee produced I believe last year that had black-actors playing all races...I would love to see an August Wilson play with an all-white cast, even an all Asian cast...acting is acting...

  • Ku | May 15, 2012 10:56 PMReply

    I see almost all comments made by play/movie goers....but not writers. As an Afrikan who writes, it is impossible for me not to take my own experiences and put them into my Afrikan characters. That said, because I am gifted and far more creative than most of the garbage that's being put out for human consumption, I am also able to create non-Afrikan characters. When creating a story/novel/play (screen/stage), the story takes on a life of its' own. Sometimes it's character-driven, in which case who you are determines who your characters should be; and sometimes it's story driven, dealing with the whole of humanity.

  • BFRank | June 4, 2012 1:11 AM

    Get over yourself.

  • CareyCarey | May 15, 2012 8:37 PMReply

    Please stand as the judge enters the room. Alright, you may be seated. I've read all the thought provoking comments and unfortunately the predonderance of evidence weighs in favor of John Lahr, August Wilson and Tambay. The court had to consider the 4 pertinent factors. 1) Are those who produce "white plays" featuring a black cast, in essence, kow-towing and waving the white flag to those who believe people of color cannot write nor produce an original work of art of their own? 2) When white plays are championed and re-made as a "black production" are the producers in essence taking the pen out of a black person's hand? 3) It goes without question that a play written by a white person with white actors in mind, the small nuance, undertone and overall dynamics are lost when black actors are substituted for the original cast and "characters". For the most part, it's a form of desecration. Lets face it, most theater goers -- not all -- have keen sensory perception which will automatically tell them when an actor is merely speaking a line, and not feeling the line. Consequently, although many love nothing more than the cliche(ish) phrase "we are not a monolithic group", the fact remains -- plays written by August Wilson and Tennesee Williams used distinctly different vernaculars. Each of which spoke to a specific "culture" 4) No one has addressed the issue of " the real purpose behind the production of white plays featuring a black cast?". What's to be gained by this new trend of appeasing white folks and begging white folks for their approval? As Tambay said: There's absolutely no need to prove *ourselves* to anyone by performing plays originally written by and about white characters". Now, keep in mind -- to my knowledge -- white folks have yet to produce a "black" play featuring white actors -- have they? Why not??!! I know... I know... they've bit off our music and love a sun tan, but that's NOT remotely connected to the issue at hand. So again, the predonderance of truth, honesty and the ever present issue of Risk vs. Rewards, tells me to stand on my position. John Lahr speaks nothing but the truth. I know... I know... the truth hurts. It's surely a tough titty but...

  • CareyCarey | May 16, 2012 5:08 PM

    Yep... and if someone was creepin' in your backdoor and you told them to GTFOOH, you wouldn't necessarily be a racist or a hater. You would merely be a guy who disagreed with the agenda and motives of the unwelcomed visitor. I agree, great talk -- love, peace and soooul.

  • Jug | May 16, 2012 4:25 PM

    Nice Carey! You got me on that one. Yeah, I understand that all too well. Now I get your "what about UPTWON" comment. I can't hate on that, if someone was "creepin' in my backdoor" to quote an old school phrase-I'd be pissed too! LOL Too funny. I take back what I said about Lahr, in so far as being "racist". I may disagree with him, but I don't think he's a "racist"...just "irritable" LOL Great talk.

  • CareyCarey | May 16, 2012 4:07 PM

    Bully Pulpit Rant? That's a new one but I love it. :-). But listen, you are my favorite visitor on this blog. You're open and honest and you do not mind conceding a point (that seldom occurs in the comment world). You're also "old school" in the sense that over the last 5 years, most "boards" have turned into tweet stops and drive-by havens, not places for continued discussions. So I appreciate the fact that you let your voice breathe with 5000 words or less. *lol*. Seriously, if movies are much more than "entertainment" as many insist ( and I agree with) then I am of the opinion that whatever conversations springs from a movie(s) -- shit or shine-o-la -- let the bells ring out. Now, having said that, it's always a formidable task to find when you are conceding a point and when you're lowering the hammer. Soooo... is Lahr's comment a racist remark? Could be, but that's a moot issue. More importantly, you can't dismiss Lahr's comment as mere pointless talk coming from a racist, while on the other hand you're agreeing that -->"there haven't been any all-white production of any Black plays. Partially, because they A) don't have to, B) most don't want to & C) the literature does not support them doing it effectively". Listen, there's the meat of the issue. They don't HAVE to -- they don't WANT to and the literature... DOES NOT support them doing it effectively. Well well well, it's time I bring in a quote that might shine a little enlightenment on this debate. --> there is no way of getting beyond one’s own impressions to arrive at some larger, objective truth. There are no rules to art, only the infinite variety of subjective experience. "Beauty is no quality in things themselves,” the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. "It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty." Now Jug, I know I don't have to explain that message to you. So lets go back to my comment/post on my experiences while watching Raisin In The Sun. Okay, granted, blacks can play roles written for white actors. But white actors could not have ushered in the experiences, rewards and laughs that I received from viewing the play with black actors in the lead roles. So I am basically trying to seek first to understand. Is it wrong for white gentlemen like Mr. Lahr to resist anyone who tries to alter his memories and experiences, without being defined as a racist? Tennesse Wiiliams and August Wilson wrote their plays with specific skin colors in mind. Consequently the original cast were white and black respectively. And the audience loved them as they were. But now we have profiteers blowing their bugles of "change" for change sake. No jug, this is not about freedom of speech, art, nor racism. This is about "who moved my cheese", and whites who know the true essence
    -- the true meaning -- of the words "the literature does not support them doing it effectively". Yep, it's all subjective... and some black folks love to mimmick the ways of white people. It gives them a false sense of IM-PO-TANCE. :-O

  • Jug | May 16, 2012 2:28 PM

    HAHAHAHAHA Of Course Carey, you KNOW I had to come back on your last Bully Pulpit Rant. You are right, to my knowledge there haven't been any all-white production of any Black plays. Partially, because they A) don't have to, B) most don't want to & C) the literature does not support them doing it effectively. Incidentally, I think it's mainly the first two LOL But check it, you can't agree with what Lahr is saying & still champion the artistry & lives of some of the most iconic Actors of the last half century who just happen to be of color. Lahr is taking the word & sentiment of August Wilson & twisting them to fit his argument, not using Wilson's argument as a whole. Look, I LOVE August Wilson, have said it many times. But he's a fucking playwright, not a social anthropologist, to put it bluntly. The same man that said that THE COSBY SHOW was not real because "they weren't like the Black people he knew". Well August, you can kiss my ass on this one. The Cosby's were more real to many Black American's upbringing, or what they strove to attain, than Citizen Barlow or Sterling ever were (tho my Uncle's are JUST LIKE the men in TWO TRAINS LOL). And his statements of "racial" purity and integrity, when it comes to plays, are borderline ridiculous seeing as how he bust his butt to have them all premiere at Yale and not Howard or St Louis Black Rep. What Nino say in NEW JACK CITY "I told you, it's never personal B. Friends is Friends. This is Business." So this guy is not the God of Black identity like we make him out to be just like Jesse & Al Sharpton are not the leaders of Black People. They're just some guys who have an opinion-use your brain and take what they say with many grains of salt. And August's opinion, is saying there is a shared experience that Black Americans have that is connected to Slavery & Oppression in this country that White People can never understand, viscerally & fundamentally, without having lived it. This is not a Truism, it's a Fact. But where August is dead wrong-and trying to sell his work at the same time-is that Black Actors or Artists performing these "other" works robs them of their humanity is Bullshit. Basically, if the point & structure of a play full of Black people doesn't talk about Race at all, or even allude to it, is denying our History & Humanity. Garbage Talk. Think on this-Cast a White Man & Woman in a Love Scene. Okay, just two people getting it on, right? NOW, cast two BLACK people in the same scene. Same dialogue. Same staging. Same Behavior but by the very fact that their skin is Black, you have given the audience ALL THE INFORMATION historically, socially, about Race that they need. We don't even need to say it. We are a VISUAL culture now, not an Auditory one or one that learns primarily through the written word. NOW make one of the partners, doesn't matter which one, Black, and see all of the Information you get from THAT pairing. It doesn't "rob" anyone of their "humanity", it expresses it. It unlocks it. And it unlocks the AUDIENCE'S humanity-for Better or Worse! And this brings me to Lahr's statement, which after reading, is inherently, subtly racist-And I'll tell you why. His viewpoint of DOS is about a man, who feels cheated out of the American Dream, even tho he did everything he was supposed to do. We can all get with that, right? But by Lahr's critique, having an all Black production changes the viewpoint from being ABOUT "alienation" to an EXERCISE in it (in reference to the physical production of the play, but it relates to the tone & theme of the play as well). A Black Willy Loman's rage against his state is against the seeming WORKING, structural order of America (because we focus on his skin color not his behavior); not the confusing, frustrating & ultimately Tragic failing of a man, a WHITE man, denied his place in the social structure. Basically, he got lied to by America just like everybody else, except that's not supposed to happen to him, because-well..he's White. It's Joe The Plumber in play form. Both iterations of the play are Greek Tragedy straight up & down. And for Lahr's "status quo" assertion I call BULLSHIT! It's in those EXACT moments that people need to, but can't, see past their own social level, their own place in the Class system, to see Human Behavior for what it is. They see Class & Race FIRST & they see it based on what it AFFORDS them. Lahr sees his State being infringed upon by Black actors just as if Black people moved into his neighborhood. But white flight ain't gonna serve him here, where is he going to run to see his production of DOS performed, intact? Attacking a system to "make sense" of it while still maintaining the function of the order itself. It's why I talked about the performers, and Art in general, who benefited from giving the finger to that sort of thinking because the actors I named made their mark on roles written white, by white writers, for a white audience. Shoot, over half of Denzel's career would go "poof". James Earl Jones playing Lear for the Public Theatre-GAHN! Morgan Freeman as "Red" in SHAWSHANK-you can forget about it. The list is long & it goes on.

  • Jug | May 16, 2012 2:27 PM

    I said it on one of my other comments, I am not for every white project being redone with an All Black cast. I'm really not, because like Tambay inferred, I feel it does a disservice to the Black writers & Artists who are trying to get their shit out there. It becomes a booby prize "see, we did a 'Black' show", & often times a gimmick (I hate Gimmicks)-even if it is well done. I also have issues with the inevitable creative need to "Blacken" things up in a show, which often plays to the basest of stereotypes of our culture to prove it is indeed, a Black show. Some disagree with me on that front & that's cool, but I've seen it more times than I care to count. But I ALSO am not in favor of telling Black people, or anyone, that they "CAN'T" do certain works for the ridiculous notions stated above. I'll tell you all day it'll be a failure, the text doesn't support it & your ass looks ridiculous but I'm not parading out in the streets picketing or trying to get an injunction. I wasn't upset about Ashton Kutcher's GUESS WHO, I was just like "Damn, why'd it have to suck so bad" LOL I'm thru with this one tho, don't even care about this guy Lahr LOL

  • CareyCarey | May 16, 2012 12:42 PM

    Stop it Jug, you knucklehead *lol*. You just had to come back with your mouth full of quibbling semantics -- huh? I do not believe the argument had anything to do with a black actor -- one lone black actor -- playing a singular role written by a white writer. But since you're back on the playing field with the ball in your hand, please tell me the real thang. Tell me, which "black plays" -- written by, and traditionally performed by black actors -- do you know of, that have been performed by white actors? C'mon now, don't cloud the issue or beat me upside my head with your smooth and good writing ass... LMBAO. I believe you know where I am going, so you can't run and you surely can't hide. Come on, talk to your boy like we're sitting on the stoop or in our favorite barber shop. I know you rock the baldy -- and thus cut your stubbles at home -- but just pretend. :-)

  • Jug | May 16, 2012 12:12 PM

    So I guess we should just throw away the careers of Paul Robeson, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett etc etc etc....all of them have excelled at STAGE & FILM work that was written by white writers with white characters in mind. I mean, that would only be fair, right? :-P

  • Millertime | May 15, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Tambay, please read Death of A Salesman. You still have time to see the play. Either way would be fine.

  • anon | May 15, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    why shouldnt bp be able to take form other cultures its something ive encouraged for years. I'd like to see more black classical orchestras, ballroom dancers clearly wp refuse to let bp into their world so why cant blks create their own? I applude these productions they are fantastic keep it up!

  • DL | May 15, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    should we have stopped the beatles, stones, led zepplin et al doing the "blues" coz it certainly wasnt their "experience" not to mention eminem, justin timberlake robin thicke and doing rnb? plus adele and amy winehouse doing soul? gtfooh! this is pure elitism they've been jacking black culture for DECADES they just don't like it when the boot is on the other foot. The producer should just ignore the critisim and continue what he feels is best something wp have been doing for time and memorial.

  • CareyCarey | May 15, 2012 12:51 AMReply

    STOP THE MADNESS! Who didn't understand exactly what John Lahr was really saying? The man is no fool, so only a fool would believe he does not understand that some roles are race specific and some are not. So I am agreeing with John Lahr and August Wilson -- DON'T PUT YOUR HANDS ON IT! And listen, I believe S&A's editor is also agreeing with those 2 men. I mean, I don't envy his position because in this post -- like many post here at S&A -- he has to placate his readers -- to keep from having enemies on his own team -- and keep them coming back, but make no misstake about, he took a position in this debate that was loud and clear (if one was really "listening"). He said: ---> "but lemme jump in here real quick and say, seriously, no disrespect to Tennessee Williams, but we don't have to reimagine his works with black casts, because we DO have *our* own original plays about black people, written by black playwrights, begging to be given the full stage treatment, whether on Broadway or off. There's absolutely no need to prove *ourselves* to anyone by performing plays originally written by and about white characters, is there? Not that I'm against these adaptations. I'm glad that we live in a time when this actually can happen. My point is just that there's a plethora of work out there, set in both historical and contemporary times, that already tell stories that revolve primarily around the lives of black people" ~ Tambay. There it is... read it there and you will find it fair. Some plays are written by white men -- for white people -- about white people. So why in the hell are black folks trying to psychoanalyze Tennessee Williams, August Wilson or John Lahr? Williams and Wilson wrote their plays with specific "characters" in mind, and it's safe to assume those characters had a specific skin color. In short, some black folks should stop swinging on the white man's jock.

  • Jug | May 15, 2012 6:01 PM

    LMBAO Carey maaan you are onto somethin' THERE! LOL

  • CareyCarey | May 15, 2012 5:55 PM

    "much of the Black theatre canon is specifically about being "Black" & what it means in relation to society. It is something that I love about works from cultures so different than my own-it is a way to learn & appreciate Life and its dimensions while at the same time understanding my own" ~ JUG. BINGO BABY -- now we're riding in the same car! Not only are many of our films and theater productions weighted too heavily on being "Black" and what it means in relation to society, the characters, in many cases, are one dimensional. And you're right, I agree, most plays are not about being "white". You mentioned "Glengary", I could name hundreds that would champion that point. And man, please stop looking over my shoulder. Listen, in reference to your take on why you love works from cultures different than your own, I've penned similar "feelings": "I have managed to maintain my love of watching movies as a form of escape. Not only do I escape, movie watching affords me the opportunity to visit emotions, sights and sounds - much like reading books - that I may not have otherwise experienced" ~ Carey. So Jug, we're in like Flynn. Now if we can just use all this combined knowledge to get you a freakin' permanent role in a big time film or tv series, we'd be working with something.

  • Jug | May 15, 2012 5:12 PM

    Yeah it was kinda weak wasnt it? Hey I gave it a shot LMBAO Seriously, you cant make an assessment of all white people based on going to that show on one particular night. I lived in DC and would see ALL white audiences attending August Wilson shows loving every "goddamn white people" sentiment. Why? Because like most things, if I'm paying to GO see it, then odds are I get it. Trust, if I was homophobic, Im not going to see ANGELS IN AMERICA (one of my favorite plays btw). You just happened to see some assholes who thought they were going to the THEEATAHH! But really I agree with you. The funny thing is, most plays are not about being "white" whereas much of the Black theatre canon is specifically about being "Black" & what it means in relation to society. It is something that I love about works from cultures so different than my own-it is a way to learn & appreciate Life and its dimensions while at the same time understanding my own. Like Traveling. For better or for worse. Take a play like GLENGARY GLENN ROSS-it has nothing to do with "whiteness", but "masculinity". And greed, pride, fear and group think. Why cant you have a Black cast do that when the work is that excellent & the text supports it? What about OLEANNA? A man confronts his female student on accusations of sexual misconduct.

  • Jug | May 15, 2012 5:11 PM

    Again, for me, Lahr's assertion that it "denies them their humanity" is bullshit because its the tired idea that he feels something is being taken from him & dare I say it-sullied-when in reality he should see it as enhanced. Enriched even. Same thing with Shakespeare performed all over the world and in every language. But true to form there was a "mine mine mine" idea when it came to Non-British or Non-Caucasian anybody touching the "classics". Im all for everyone doing any work WHEN THE TEXT SUPPORTS IT. I saw a garbage production of JULIUS CAESAR done like The Borg from STAR TREK. Why? Because the director loved STAR TREK. Not supported by a lick of the text. If a play is inherently about the genocide of a people, you cant change that. If a play is about the destruction of the human race, but the characters are just white cuz the writer was white, than fuck 'em, cast who wanna cast. Least thats how I feel bout it LOL

  • CareyCarey | May 15, 2012 4:39 PM

    JUG, now you've done it. You done got me started *lol*. Duplicate the following experience with a white cast. Check this out. I wrote this one year ago. Last week I went to see Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin In The Sun. Most of us know about Ms. Hansberry's play but here's the deal. The play was at an old established barn theater. Yep, white folks. This playcrafters barn has been around for 81 years and they've never put on a production like this. Well, some previous plays were the Mouse Trap by Agatha Christie, See How They Run by Phillip King, and Papa's Angels by Collin Wilcox Paxton. You get the picture, plays with a white cast, written by white authors. Well, I saw "Raisin" on two separate nights and I noticed a distinct difference between the crowd's reactions.

    "A Raisin In The Sun" is a black play. Some may remember the role of Walter being played by Sydney Poitier. Others may remember Danny Glover playing the same part. There's another clown that thought he was doing the damn thang - but he wasn't, so I am not even going to mention his name. Okay, it was P. Diddy pretending to be an actor.

    While watching the play, I glanced at the old white people. Their faces said it all, my suspicions were true. It quickly became apparent that many of them had never seen the play and didn't know anything about it. As I said, I went on two different nights. The first night was a benefit performance for Healing Waters Empowerment Project: Breaking The Cycle of Domestic Violence - a black thing. The crowd was evenly mixed - whites and blacks. I accompanied a group of 50 upward bound students - mostly black. The last night was filled with season ticket holders - old white folk.

    Well, I have to admit that I am an arm chair critic that doesn't really enjoy amateur productions, but these actors killed this play. I had seen the lead performer do her thang in a production of "Doubt". I knew she could act but she was riveting in the role of Momma.

    Now, the characters, Walter and Momma have very dynamic scenes. Race issues are a big part of the play, and some of the lines hit white folks right in the gut.

    In one scene, Walter's sister is reminiscing about white people and says ..." that's how the cracker crumbles". Listen, you should have seen the looks on those white folks face. That line is followed by...."that's a joke". It may have been a joke but them white folks didn't think that mess was funny - not one bit. In another scene, the family is seen discussing the fears of white people when they think a black family may be moving into their neighborhood. One character said they were afraid of losing property value and another family member said, "no, dey afraid we might marry one of them". The black audience fell out laughing. The white audience looked as if they had just heard the O. J Simpson verdict.

    I realized that most whites have not been around us in all our flavor. I got the feeling they thought every closed eye was sleep. They didn't know we have a doctorate degree in white zoo-ology. They didn't like hearing lines that showed them in all their glory, at least not coming from the mouth of a black person standing 10 feet away. They seemed surprised to hear that we sometimes "play them" when they think they are "playing us".

    Listen, Walter has a scene in which he says he is going to act just the way they expect him to, in order to get that money. Walter was pressed for money and the family was offered a handsome sum not to move into the neighborhood. Walter said he was going to do the best Uncle Tom they've ever seen. He also said the word Nigger several times and did a great Chicken George, which made the white crowd very uncomfortable.

    The character Momma was the anchor of the play and always stood for right and moral decency. The crowd loved Momma - even the white folks. She was frequently heard saying how black folks should just be grateful and forget about money and moving too fast. She also said her family has always been simple folks. But towards the end of the play, Momma showed the side of a black mother if they're bruised. Well, the white "welcoming committee" had sent a buy-out check to the family. Toward the end of the tense and dramatic scene, Walter turned down the money. Momma had put the decision in his hands. The pitchman for the committee made one last plea to Momma. Now, mind you, Momma has been running this family. Her daughter even labeled her a tyrant. But in this scene she turned her head away from the white man as if he stunk, and said, "you know I can't do nothing with those kids" . The man looked back at Walter who was now standing by his son. The son had a look of pride as Walter opened the door as if telling the man it's time for him to leave. Remember, many of the white people had never seen the play. Lawd have mercy, I looked at them white folks and you would have thought momma called that white man a nigger. Some of the blacks started clapping. I heard one sista say, "I know that's right".

    After the play, the actors formed a greeting line. They hurried out a back door to meet the audience by the exits. Let me tell you, some of the white folks were really cool, they loved the play. Yet others couldn't stare at the ceiling long enough as they tried to sneak past the actors. Maybe somebody should have told them who was coming to dinner, and that it wasn't Sydney Poitier and Spencer Tracy. Yep Jug, some things we should put our hands on b/c some things are priceless. **eyebrow raised**

  • CareyCarey | May 15, 2012 4:19 PM

    Jug, believe me, I totally understand your POV. But listen, I am not talking about "re-writing" a play as they did with Porgy & Bess. Nor am I referring to biting off a THEME of a particular play. Granted, it goes without question that all humans experience similar hardships/emotions/fears (i.e. loss of a loved one, poverty, marital problems, alcohol & drug abuse, financial problems, etc,) so I am not arguing that point. However, when a play/movie/film is written by a black person or white person with a specific "cast"/image/culture in mind, that's when I question the motives behind changing the author's vision. Look, case in point, you mentioned Raisin In The Sun. STOP IT! lol. You know as well as I, the central focus of that play was "Racism" - period. Set it in rural Appalachia?! Really -- seriously?! Have you ever been in rural Appalachia? Tell me, who would be the protangonists in your A Raisin? And tell me -- your take on "Raisin"?... it's main issue was class warfare? C'mon Jug, this is CareyCarey you're talking to, not Sammy Sausage Head*lol*. Yep, you're correct about one thing -- it would take re-writes mammy. With a white cast, the entire play would lose it's cultural dynamics, not to mention the issues that we, people of color feel, when we move into predominately white neighborhoods -- that can never be duplicaated. C'mon man, each of the family member's place in society was directly related to their skin color which cannot be duplicated by a white cast. So Jug, to reiterate, one errs when they suggests that plays written by a white person (or black person in this case), with a specific "skin toned cast"/culture in mind, can automatically, and should automatically translate to a completely different culture, simply because the play touches on universal themes. Having said that, I believe we are argreeing more than disagreeing. You say re-writes -- I say let a sleeping dog lie. I guess I just do not see the purpose of "black productions" of Lilly white plays. And, who gains? Is the lose worth the rewards -- if there are any?

  • Jug | May 15, 2012 2:43 PM

    I gotta disagree with you Carey. Been a while LOL. It's not about "riding the white man's jock". Because most of those plays are not about being "white"-they're about BEHAVIOR. Many of our plays are about RACE, because it's a function of life we deal with daily, just like "Women's Theatre" are plays often dealing with Gender because that is what women deal with daily. But in regards to icons like Miller, Williams, Kushner (whose plays are about everything under the sun but especially Sexuality) race is not normally the point. Class-YES, but Race not so much. Their them, watch the movies, see the plays. They aren't telling a decidedly "white" point of view of living, even if a character is said to be "Irish". But read JOE TURNER'S COME & GONE & read Herald Loomis' searing monologue vision about "the bones rising out the water & walking on it". That's not something a white actor can honestly portray simply because they're white. It's a historical, cultural experience totally connected to skin color. If there was a play about the Native American Trail of Tears, try as I might, it's not something I can jump into & give full weight to. But Tennessee Williams talking about a fucked up family with sexual repression, rampant alcoholism, ego-maniacal ravings & Southern classicism-where is it that white people of ANY nationality corner the market on that. The one Black play I could think of that could easily have an all white cast is A RAISIN IN THE SUN, just set it in rural Appalachia. The ideas of oppressed people, class warfare & trying to be better than your state easily translate. Of course, you'd need some re-writes for the Walter Lee African Dance scene LOL Maybe you're right that the critic is smarter than we give him credit for & he's being almost facetious with his decree. But the argument is an old one & it never gets anymore valid. I agree that there's a plethora of work out there by Black writers and they are being done all over the place (we focus TOO much on Broadway and not on places like St Louis Black Rep, Penumbra, Arena Stage, Everyman Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Guthrie & OSF), but it's ridiculous to say that a performer cannot & should not do works by playwrights of other cultures. That actually negates the idea of "Art", much less commerce...cuz you want all the money LOL Oddly enough, I'm watching SOURCE CODE & Jeffrey Wright's character was written white. By placing him in the role, you still get a great actor PLUS the visual ideas that come along with a Black man in the role-but without the trappings of race & class being intended &/or the focal point of the plot. I don't thin it's any different for Broadway.

  • Gigi Young | May 14, 2012 11:57 PMReply

    Oi vey, the cliched Tyler Perry reference, as though--once again--black audiences are monolithic within what they choose to consume. I like Perry's ouevre despite its flaws because I am entertained and amused, but I also LOVE anything and everything Broadway, from the productions put on by David Belasco to Wicked to Fences, and everything in between. I've begun to hold contempt for black entertainment types who automatically reach for the "Tyler Perry" meme when making a point about "hoi polloi" black entertainment vs "siddity" black entertainment, because it's lazy and lame.

  • ANTHONY RAYNER | May 14, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    I don't agree at all with John Lahr or August Wilson on this subject. Human experience is universal and the cultural specifics of a group can be applied to any production wherein race is not an issue. "Streetcar" for one, and Tennessee Williams plays in general, deal with issues that might be pertinent to any group of people. Although culturally of the United States there have been innumerable productions of Tennessee Williams plays around the world, is Mr. Lahr against other cultures producing these plays written specifically in an American idiom? Or is it really just a case of he doesn't care who appears in the plays as long as they are white.

  • mel | May 14, 2012 11:22 PMReply

    Shadow & Act, I love y'all, but I have to shake my head whenever you admit to having never seen or read a classic like Death of a Salesman. I also agree with JUG, but it's interesting that DOAS is mentioned, because it's one of a handful of plays I think would be more dynamic with a black cast. Has anyone ever thought about that? All the plays the Black experience could elevate? DOAS is all about the American Dream screwing you over and what better group to portray the complexities of that than Black people? The Cherry Orchard, which is (super summary) about a newly broke landowner whose property is bought from underneath her by one of her servants, would be the with a white plantation owner as the landowner and emancipated slaves as the servant characters. Modernize the language in Antigone and you've got a sad ghetto drama with a strong, defiant Black female lead. Speaking of Sophocles, when I was watching Baby Boy last weekend with my bestie, I noticed the Oedipus Complex line the Ving Rhames character had and was like, 'OH SHIT.' Cause it made such perfect sense.

    The Streetcar characters don't even symbolize race, they symbolize the New South (working class folks who have left the plantation like Stella and immigrants/ethnic minorities who reject tradition like Stan) vs the Old South (wealthy Pedigree do-nothings with entitlements and rigid social structures binding them from moving forward like Blanche). Critic dude needs to get over himself and accept the fact that sometimes black people just do it better lol. j/k. What he really needs to accept is that plays, like all art forms, can be interpreted in any number of ways. Just because you have a problem with one interpretation doesn't mean it's all bullshit. In his case, he simply has an extremely sad and narrow view of what a good adaptation is!

  • James Evans | May 14, 2012 9:24 PMReply

    Kudos to S&A for a truly thought provoking debate. I find myself agreeing with BOTH sides of this argument. I would indeed support an all white version of Mr. Wilson's play, as I believe he probably would as well, if you think about it. White actors study and internalizing the themes of August Wilson could only be a positive and informative process. And an all white version stage play could only be a rousing commercial success or an abysmal commercial failure. Either way is a win for Mr. Wilson's work.

  • Keri Foster | May 15, 2012 3:07 PM

    I agree with you James, and yours is the first comment that I have agreed with.

    I completely disagree with John Lahr's approach to this topic as he brings an entitlement aspect to it ("well if blacks can have it then whites can too and no one can say anything") as if white people should be entitled to anything. It's almost a threat - as if he is saying that producing an all-black Streetcar is going to make white people feel that they need to retaliate by producing an all-white Fences. Lahr's actual point is that he feels that an all-white cast would be a terrible idea, just as I assume he thinks an all-black Streetcar is a terrible idea.

    I personally find no fault in an all-black cast of a typically white play. Of course, I don't have a problem with an all-white cast performing a famously black play, as long as it is done genuinely. If it were done out of spite or to settle some score, as Lahr seems to endorse, then shame shame on all involved. However there are a great number of white people and white actors who, even if they have never lived the black experience, can engage in sociological imagination and racial compassion. For that exact reason I would not condemn any monochromatic cast purely on "principle."

  • Mark & Darla | May 14, 2012 8:56 PMReply

    Think I gonna sit in a corner and laugh my ass off.

  • Hazeleyes | May 14, 2012 8:43 PMReply

    I agree with JUG *sigh* such a stupid argument -- period! Btw, that reminds me, what's the point of these race bait posts? Granted, controversy sells, but depicting white people or a white person as the villian is so declasse!

  • BluTopaz | May 14, 2012 8:37 PMReply

    I haven't seen Streetcar and don't intend to, but I applaud Blair's educated, historical response that puts this adaptation in another light.

  • pbjones | May 14, 2012 8:09 PMReply

    So basically every good actor wants to do good and challenging work. We know which works are rich regardless of color. However there are some works that you just can't ignore the racial and cultural significance. Troy Maxon and Harold Loomis for example are two iconic characters in August Wilson's work and I would be willing to bet that any actor worth his salt would love to sink their teeth into those parts however because the characters are so immersed in the African American experience it would be difficult to pull off without changing elements of the play themselves. As a whole though I don't have a problem with non-traditional casting. However my problem is at the end of it all Tennessee Williams' estate is making money off of this regardless of who plays what role. Can we show some of that love and wealth to all of the struggling AA playwrights pouring their heart and souls into their stories only for no one to hear them. Can we get support at festivals such as the DC Black. And not just support from our fellow brothers and sisters but from those of us that have the power to bring the stories before thousands, before millions.

  • Miles Ellison | May 14, 2012 7:23 PMReply

    If American society weren't so racist and exclusionary, we wouldn't be having silly debates like this. A cursory reading of Tennessee Williams' work would reveal that the experience he's writing about is the human experience, not the white experience.

  • ExodusAnimator | May 14, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    August Wilson's play's are specifically about the African American experience. Tennessee Williams plays are plays simply about the human spirit and the American experience. I'm sorry, but we are a product of slavery, Jim Crow, and exclusion from every aspect of society. Up until his death, August Wilson was the ONLY African American playwright on Broadway. And here, just a few years after his death, are there any African American playwrights creating Broadway plays? Just to make a point, lets have an all White cast of any Wilson play(unedited), and we will see how it just doesn't work! One story, although not a play but a film, of a story written by an African American, but could be played racially neutral is Underworld. This film written by Kevin Grevioux, featured, with the exception of Grevioux, was an all White cast.

    My point is that anything written simply about the human condition, but is race neutral, can be done by anyone. But the point of August Wilson's work, is to express the uniquely African American experience

  • Ladybug | May 14, 2012 8:35 PM

    Nathan Louis Jackson
    Lydia Diamond
    Lynn Nottage
    Katori Hall
    Terrell Alvin McCraney
    Christina Anderson
    Kia Corthoron
    Danai Gurira

    All African American playwrights that have introduced good work . . . most never made it to the Broadway stage despite favorable reviews (sure I am missing a few) . . . Mr. Byrd should produce some new classics . . . support new artists . . . and oh my god . . . maybe champion some of those unsung amazing black stage actors.

  • mantan | May 14, 2012 7:20 PM

    what exodus said!

  • Jug | May 14, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    *sigh* such a stupid argument. It's the same one used against HBCU's. These institutions & creations came about because everyone else other than White Men were cut out of everything. But to be fair, there are plays that are decidedly from an "Insert Nationality Here"-White Experience & there are plays that are decidedly from an "Insert Nationality Here"-White Experience. We say White & Black so much we do forget that White people are Italian, Spanish, Jewish, Irish, Slovak, etc. Just like Black people are American, Jamaican, Ghanaian, British, Norwegian, etc. But if the play itself is built on specific cultural & historical references in regards to both character & setting, than it's written to express a "Specific" truth to go to a "Universal" truth. Otherwise go ahead and fill your cast with whatever you want, just know what you're creating & why & deal with the "response" accordingly. DEATH OF A SALESMAN is not specifically about the "Jewish Experience"-tho Loman's character is Jewish. Matter of fact, most of Miller's plays tend to be American, as he wrote SALESMAN in response to the idea that you could not write a Greek style drama about the common man. It had no basis in color/creed, etc. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is about the South & dysfunctional families, uhh that's pretty much it (sounds a lot like Tyler Perry huh LOL)..but something like THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE is decidedly about an ethnic, cultural & historical Irish frame of reference that may not work with a Black cast. In fact, it's 1990s Irish Terrorist setting, tho there are Irish people of color, may not cater to realism at all with a Black cast. LOL There was a Black WAITING FOR GODOT with Wendell Pierce & J. Kyle Manzay, which killed because it took the idea of "absurdism" & the apocalypse-something which no culture has a lock on-and set it in post-Katrina New Orleans. Totally worked! But I have seen a Black DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS and it was laughable because they worked to keep the authentic Irish immigrant dialect. So in trying to illuminate something "new" with an all Black cast, it became a gimmick (not to mention the accents were horrible), just like an all White GEM OF THE OCEAN would be. Tho it's Wilson's most "well-made" structured play & the themes are the most Universal, an all White FENCES would be ridiculous, it's still built on the racial history of the United States, in which Blacks have been enslaved & in many instances are still oppressed & ostracized. Not gonna fly too well with a White Cast. It would work purely as a Black Box exercise or experimental theatre, but a "real" show, one somebody's gonna pay money for & try to pass off as legit-Pleeeezzz. Behind all the philosophical, theatre talk, it's about Money and how you're gonna market your shit. You find ways to justify having an All Black Cast or having ROMEO & JULIET in L.A. with guns & gangs. Gotta do what you gotta do. This critic dude, he's just on one of those "well, you can have it, why can't I?!" To which I give the middle finger. It's like white people asking "why can't I say Nigger?" My question is, "why would you want to?"

  • Helluva | May 14, 2012 8:24 PM

    Good points...

  • Jug | May 14, 2012 6:43 PM

    Oh lord, I meant "Insert Nationality Here"-BLACK experience above. Have y'all thinking I'm campaigning for the Klan LOL

  • Jug | May 14, 2012 6:39 PM

    I will say tho, there is great work made by all colors and performance professionals are drawn to that. I have White Actor friends that WISH they could say August's words. They drool anytime they hear monologues from Boy Willie, Herald Loomis, Aunt Ester or Troy Maxson. So it goes both ways. Folks want to do good work and work their chops on the best, regardless of of who made it (notice all the young Asian & White kids singing Whitney & "And I'm Telling You" on the singing shows now LOL). I do agree with Blair that there's a blowback when Black actors tackle established/iconic American works, the contemporary work that gets held on to & cherished. Just like it used to be with Classical work. Those days are dead &/or dying in regional theatre & I guess Broadway has to be the last bastion of nonsense LOL. It's all "egg-head" in the clique bullshit tho, because the avg theatre goer could give two shits.

  • toexplain | May 14, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    Correct me if I am wrong, but when August Wilson made his statement wasn't he the only game in town(Broadway)? I took his statement as him lamenting the lack of original African American plays and by concentrating on Black versions of notable white plays only muted our voices. I feel if their were more literary voices out there like there are now(still not enough), his views might not be as rigid.

    That being said, I don't mind these stagings, and happily gave my money to Stickfly and Mountaintop the last time I was in New York.

  • nia | May 14, 2012 5:58 PMReply

    I agree with both points 1. that there ar e cultural and historical experiences shared by both blacks and whites that deserve varied representations in film and on stage and that the commercial timing of Streetcar is excellent and should be exploited. Further, more original black productions should be promoted and attended by crossover audiences. I love this play and I love Blair Underwood. If given the chance I would gladly pay to see this new spin on an old production. Reimagining this story from an african american perspective is timely, fresh, and original. Given the cast, it should be a wonderful experience for all who attend. Wilson is dead and that other guy is outdated. I'm not listening to either of them because even The Piano Lesson could be done well in southern 'white face', someday.

  • Bani Productions | May 14, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    My first introduction to "Pirates of Penzance" was in my Lagos, Nigeria-based secondary school performance. I followed the story. I knew the story would have originally have had a white cast; what with all that shrill opera singing and no drumming but that didn't matter.
    Basically, what I see here is an inability of some people to not attach skin colour to certain identities. It is almost like saying, you cannot have an all white performance of "The Gods are not to blame"; if you arrange it right, you get the story across

  • BluTopaz | May 14, 2012 8:32 PM

    Your post reminds me of a quote from singer Angelique Kidjo. She said the first time she heard the European classic Ravel's Bolero, the melody sounded African to her and she did not understand how other musicians did not hear it. She recorded it with lyricss in her native language, and takes the song to another level Ravel didn't intend-lol, but it's breathtakingly gorgeous. It just kills me how Europeans can wax poetic about how universally human their masterpieces are, but then have a conniption like this Lahr tool.

  • SMH | May 14, 2012 5:53 PMReply

    Look -- UP IN THE SKY -- the chickens are coming home to roost. Listen... they're coming over the mountain -- "We want "our" stories told by us" fuk Kathryn Stockett, move around Mr. Lucus. There is indeed a unique "black experience" and a unique "white experience," and the two are markedly different". But oh no, black folks want their cake and eat it too. That's right, I am reminded of the house negro vs. the field negro. The hard working honest negro fought hard for his freedom, yet the house ni**a, loved everything about his master. Hell -- the house n***a did his best to talk in a manner in which would make him feel as powerful as his dear Mr. Charlie... "we's gonna be's doin' fine sir, wenever's dem other darkies stop tryin' to run away". But as the world turns and the pigeons have come home to roost in the year 2012, the house ni**as have sharpened their speaking skills, but if one looks real close, it's the same old song... "we are not one singular monolithic group (cliche of the fukin year) . Some of us are snobs who are ashamed of our past. Consequently, we don't want anything to do with our past "black experiences". We're going to straighten our hair and sing satisfied. Yes sir, we're going to remake every classic white play we can get out hands on. We want to be "white" just like you. Please let us in"

  • mark | May 14, 2012 8:05 PM


  • Numa | May 14, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    Have to chime in here. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was Broadways highest grossing play in 2008. Featuring an all black cast of some big names/heavyweights. Most don't know this fact because Broadway didn't exactly laud it. What Stephen Byrd and Co has done is incredible twice over. Black casts of Tennessee Williams works have been produced for decades now, this is nothing new. Williams encouraged it. There is a rich history here and I believe we absolutely should re imagine some of these works because they offer a chance for some surprise and a new way of illustrating the language. Now when an all black casts makes more money than a white cast in a classical play on Broadway that can indeed inspire some envy and critics tend to lock arms to keep who they want out of the game.

  • Katie | May 14, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    "But while I understand Wilson's lament, I don't entirely agree with it." and THAT'S where I stopped taking you seriously. >_>

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