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

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

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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Comments

Classics in Color Theatre Company

I think the need to cast some of these classic plays with actors of color is because so many of these are listed as "classics" and in several reading lists required in the educational system in the U.S. If young people see these classics demonstrating inclusion, there is a higher chance of them being engaged by the story and/or the lessons and/or the beauty of the literature itself. This is why I’d argue that it’s important to do both, perform works by all kinds of playwrights with all kinds of actors. The world needs to experience more inclusion on a whole, and theatre can help that.

Jay Viescas

Though I look white I am Hispanic. Though I don’t exhibit any outwardly homosexuals affectation I am a Gay man. Should it matter if I, an openly Gay man play a heterosexual on stage or screen? Of course not! We’ve HAD to do it for years before the Gay rights movement. Race is a different matter but words and ideas are not. Only, or so it seems, in America does it appear so radical to limit the scope of a dramatic work by the color of skin of it’s actors. What is a black play? What is a white play? In William M Hoffman anthology Gay Plays Robert Patrick quips, "What are Gay plays? Plays of the same sex that sleep together?" My take on this is that a work of words for the stage is not determined solely on it’s creators orientations, predilections or race though these may have strong influences as to its character – it is its own semi hollow being waiting for souls to inhabit it and bring it fully to life.

V.Steele

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.

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

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

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

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 solid…it will stand. Nuff said.

dj

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

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

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

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

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

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.

CareyCarey

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…

Millertime

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

anon

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

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

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.

Gigi Young

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

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

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 bomb.com 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

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.

Mark & Darla

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

Hazeleyes

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

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

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

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

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

Jug

*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?"

toexplain

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

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

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

SMH

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"

Numa

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

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

Jay Viescas

Being a long time theatre person and having read and seen both Tennessee Williams AND August Wilson plays I would state that Williams had not written for “all white audiences” but Wilson had written more specifically for African American audiences with other non-AA persons in mind who could at least attempt to consider the “Black” perspective on the Black experience. Williams has Mexicans in some of his plays and short fiction – Night of the Iguana, Suddenly Last Summer, The Mattress by the Tomato Patch etc. and most of his stories are about families and/or the experience of the family of lack of it. Portrait of a Girl in Glass and it’s “adaptation” to the stage – The Glass Menagerie deal with a single Mother in the early 20th Century. I don’t see his plays labled – for WHITE, HETEROSEXUAL, MARRIED PEOPLE ONLY! and an other than white racial cast would fit as well. August Wilson, on the other hand, is writing from the more strict perspective of Black Americans still having to battle with white guilt and hate over issues that the PC generation only paid stupid lip service to and thought that by changing language it could change the demeanor and attitude of a nation spoon fed bigotry and denial since the country was conceived. Slavery was a habit not a god given “right”. Some of Wilson’s argument is based on plain, unalterable facts of what actually happened, has been recorded and heard repeatedly from those to whom it happened and is still happening to! Tennessee Williams drama is quite a bit more universal than Wilson’s meaning that anyone with a dysfunctional upbringing should be able perform in it regardless of race or skin color. One of the very few “colored” characters in Williams lexicon is the title character in his short story, “Desire and the Black Masseur” and he isn’t even given a name! It is a highly homoerotic piece of fictions that pulled very few punches for the time in which it was written and, in an odd defense to Wilson’s position on Black Drama, you wouldn’t dare switch the sexes of the Masseur and his little “white” client (or the races for that matter) as it wouldn’t really make sense as it was an early indictment of homophobia and racism. When it comes down to it then it depends on the story itself whether it can be interpreted through the “skin” of another racial group or not. Most of Wilson’s plays ARE written from the Black American perspective and that is how the story is best and most truthfully told. Very few if anyone barely even touched on the “middle” ground such as Authol Fugard’s – Master Harold and the Boys, A Lesson from the Aloes, Blood Knot, etc. and Tom Stoppard – Night and Day, in particular. Color blind casting might be appropriate in some cases but I still believe it isn’t appropriate in ALL cases. Edward Albee still won’t let you do an all male cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – not sure if you could do an all Black cast… Hmmm?????

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