Thursday, December 17, 2009

Race in America and on stage

I've now seen and reviewed five Broadway shows that deal in some way with race in America, from the fantasy of Finian's Rainbow to the history of Ragtime and Memphis to the contemporary Superior Donuts and Race.

There's no doubt Superior Donuts was my favorite. I loved the story and the characters contained in Tracy Letts' play, which sadly is closing Jan. 3. It's not a sunny, everything is perfect optimism. People struggle and they're certainly not perfect. Still, you get the sense that we can move beyond our fears and stereotypes and reach out to each other as human beings.

While these plays and musicals have strong, interesting black characters and some terrific performances - most notably Jon Michael Hill in Superior Donuts and Montego Glover in Memphis - I don't think any of them has a story or music written by an African-American. (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.)

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the fact that they were all largely created by white men - and one white woman, Lynn Ahrens, lyricist of Ragtime. We all ought to be able to write about any subject or group of people, even if we don't happen to belong to that group.

I just think that when you're talking about race, it's beneficial to have some different perspectives and it's a shame we didn't get that on Broadway this fall. Yes, I know that a revival of the late August Wilson's Fences is planned for the spring but the play was written in 1983 and takes place in the 1950s.

I'd like to see more African-American playwrights, like Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage for example, have a chance to get their works on Broadway. Because talking about race in America in the 21st century should be a two-way street.


Linda said...

Great post and I agree with you that there should be more African-American playwrights represented on Broadway, but there were a number of African-American voices off-Broadway this season. For example, solo shows by Colman Domingo, Anna Deavere Smith, and Charlayne Woodard and Tarell Alvin McCraney with the Brother/Sister Plays.

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment, Linda!

I should have mentioned those other shows and I wish I'd had a chance to see them - especially Colman Domingo's. He was so memorable in Passing Strange.

Martha Garvey said...

Colman Domingo's show was terrific.

Esther said...

Thanks, Martha! It's one show I definitely would have seen if I lived in New York. Hope I can see him again on stage someday.