|Terrence Howard & Anika Noni Rose in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof|
John Lahr, theater critic for The New Yorker, just posted a roundup of the Best Theater of the Year on that publication's Culture Desk blog.
He begins with a wish list for Santa:
Santa, baby, next year please: can we get Arthur Kopit’s brilliant “Discovery of America” on the boards? Will you deliver—I’ve been asking for years now—a few good sets of lyrics in musical shows which aren’t movie retreads and which carry appropriate intellectual weight? And no more infernal all-black productions of Tennessee Williams plays unless we can have their equal in folly: all-white productions of August Wilson. And, since I’ve been a good boy, could I get more bravery from producers and from playwrights to take the theatre beyond sexual politics to the soiled workings of the public realm? Is more thought, more visual excitement, more joy too much to ask?
It seemed strange to me that he would single out the race reversing of Williams' plays into his end of the year wrap-up for a year that didn't include a high profile all-black Tennessee Williams production. Although there is the upcoming Broadway-bound production of A Streetcar Named Desire with Blair Underwood and Daphne Rubin-Vega, which I guess he is trying to trip out of the gate.
Lahr didn't even review the 2008 Broadway revival of Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , which starred James Earl Jones and other famous African American actors. Hilton Als covered the production for the Magazine, and wrote only a few sentences dealing with the color-blind casting, summing it up with: "Race plays as much or as little a role in this revival as you want it to." Ben Brantley in his New York Times review was even more dismissive of any problems the race reversal might present. And he pointed out that the director, Debbie Allen, had nudged the period feel of the production enough to leap frog it past the era of Jim Crow.
Loman is a monument to envy and its hate-filled agitations—all pluck and no luck. His outraged bewilderment—“What’s the mystery?,” “What’s the secret?,” “What happened?”—is predicated on the notion that abundance is there for the taking. This sense of expectation and entitlement was simply not shared by African-Americans in 1949. “You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity . . . that you were a worthless human being,” James Baldwin wrote in 1962, in an open letter to his nephew. “You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
The "mendacity" of the play... Big Daddy, this is a man who has 28,000 acres of the most fertile land west of the Nile. Now, okay, those 28,000 acres of fertile delta land - that wealth - that was built on the backs of slavery. That is the omnipresent, unspoken central sin under which this whole elaborate structure of society, manners, wealth has been built. It's all been built to cut out, to block out, to not see...to actually alibi this unspoken, but omnipresent thing.