Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CONTROVERSIAL STREETCAR/ Nicole and Blair on MSNBC

With regard to the "Nay Sayers," like the New Yorker theater critic, John Lahr, that asked Santa Clause, last Christmas, to bring him no more "Infernal all black cast productions of Tennessee Williams' plays, unless he can have his equal in 'FOLLY'; an all white production of an August Wilson play!" "FOLLY," really?!  

We have been having such an AMAZING run, playing to full houses, standing ovations EVERY night, since the very first preview. Our run on Broadway was just extended another month until August 19th and all systems are go for us to take the production to London in Oct. Though 90 % of the reviews have been positive...(we are, after all critiquing an art form and everyone is entitled to their own opinions), it is the commentaries from the likes of John Lahr (theater critic for The New Yorker magazine) and racist rants from NY Times critic Ben Brantley masquerading as a "review," where you realize that they are not even remotely interested in reviewing or critiquing the work and/or artistry upon the stage. The so-called guardian Elite of the New York theater world, would rather take a position of condescension and dismissal when  people of color have the "audacity" to take on the extraordinary, beautiful work of Tennessee Williams. Once you know your history and know that there was indeed a culture of people (in the 1700s), endemic to Louisiana called the "gens de colour libre," or "free people of color," and that these people owned plantations and 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 and 40s:


These are three actual black millionaires in the deep south of the 1930s and 40s that serve as prototypes for Shep Huntleigh.

William Madison McDonald 
Gooseneck Bill McDonald moved to Fort Worth in 1906.  He built the Fraternal Bank and Trust Company in 1912.  The bank was located at 401 E. Ninth Street. The bank was successful and survived the Great Depression. The bank provided loans to African American entrepreneurs during the segregated era.

According to a 1984 Fort Worth Star Telegram story, Mc Donald was “Ft. Worth’s first black millionaire”. He lived in a 12 room mansion on Terrell Avenue  His home “rivaled any in Fort Worth at the time.”

Joseph Jacob Simmons
Joseph Jacob Simmons, Jr. (January 17, 1901 – March 24, 1981) was a prominent African American oilman. He "rose above humble beginnings to become the most successful and most recognizable black entrepreneur in the history of the petroleum industry."

As an internationally known oil broker he partnered with Phillips Petroleum Company and Signal Oil and Gas Company to open up African oil fields in Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana. In 1969, he became the first black to be appointed to the National Petroleum Council

The headline from this conversation is: BLACK FOLKS, STAY IN YOUR PLACE!
As long as we stay in our place and do only the great "Black" classics, like "Fences," "Porgy and Bess," "A Raisin In The Son,"  etc. your artistry will be lauded and touted, (as it should be), but if you dare step into the deified realm of Tennessee Williams, expect profound resistance and resentment. This is evident not only in our production but in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," produced by the same producers; Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones in 2008 with an all-black cast. Incidentally, with the same dismissive climate, "Cat" prevailed and became the highest grossing "play" (not musical) of the year!

I saw the production and the work was stellar.

"Cat boasted three previous Tony Award "winners;" James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Anika Noni Rose, but the reviews were blistering and the entire company, cast and crew were completely ignored and shut out of a single Tony nomination, the highest honor in the world of Broadway. Ironically, so were we, save a deserved Tony nomination for Paul Tazewell's costumes. Though the costumes are terrific, are you telling me that when you come to see our play the ONLY thing you are left with is how amazing the costumes are? dismissal and condescension.

Once again, you realize that the "resistance" and "resentment" is not based on the work. 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 and perform Tennessee Williams and do it well. The beauty in all of this is that when an ideas time has come it cannot and will not be ignored!

Nicole and I decided to make a concerted effort to expose John Lahr and other's ignorance with regard to people of color doing Tennessee Williams. We did an interview on MSNBC on Thursday with the brilliant Michael Eric Dyson. The response and buzz has been phenomenal. Feel free to send the video viral if you like. Thanks much.

Blair

2 comments:

BFIrrera said...

We're currently involved with a community theatre group performing Streetcar. I actually would have loved to have seen your production and I'm sorry that the critics can not see beyond skin color. From the video clips I can find online it looked spectacular.

I see no reason why these characters couldn't be black (and the same for Maggie/Brick/et al in Cat).

It's the same nonsense we get from comic book fans with non-white casting of on screen superheroes (I'm thinking of the furor over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie). It's also strange when "fans" of books protest when black characters are portrayed by black actors (I'm referring to the NONtroversial casting of Rue in "the Hunger Games"), simply because white readers ignored the description of the character that fairly clearly stated that she was dark skinned.

Hopefully, future theatre critics will be able to see past this nonsense and we can have color-blind casted versions of not only Tennessee Williams, but also Arthur Miller, William Inge, and many more of the great writers for the stage.

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