Wednesday, January 21, 2009


(After writing the "BLACKFACE" post a few days ago, I immediately contacted my buddy Reuben for his reaction--Reuben and I had countless discussions on such issues and many others while we were studying acting in grad school. His response was, as usual, both thought-provoking and cool. I miss hanging out with him.

Anyway, I'm posting his email as a guest blog. Check it out.)


Not having seen the show, I can't say for sure.

But judging by that picture...

it don't look good.

I will, however, say this. If someone wants to put an image as absurd and ridiculous as blackface in a play, he/she better fill the play with as many OTHER applicably absurd images as he/she can to create a context in which the blackface loses it's ability to offend.


If someone wants to cast a white person in a role that was written to be played by a black person, then he/she should just cast that person and be done with it. No blackface is needed. All that actor needs to do is study the language and the circumstances and COMMIT to them. No tricks, no gimmicks. If I'm cast in a role that was written to be played by a white person, I don't think, "Oh shit, let me grab the pasty-white make-up!" or "How can I blacken this person up a bit?" I just learn the language, the circumstances, the culture, etc. and work.

Let me tell you a story. I was in a play a couple of months ago and there were two white actors that were cast in roles that were originally written to be played by people of color, one black and one Latino. The actor that was cast in the "black" role seemed to struggle for much of the rehearsal. The idea of the character was of a middle aged black man who, judging by his speech, had obviously been really affected by the seventies. Eventually he tried to find his way into it by imposing this weird Texas tycoon thing onto it, like he was in the show Dallas or something. He sounded and felt so strange. Sometimes it worked, I guess, but most of the time it sounded like a country-ass Texan making fun of the way black people talk. The actor playing the "Latin" role was even more clueless. It was as if she was completely oblivious to the reality of her character. The person she was playing used very specific and descriptive street slang that, with a little research, could have given an actor a really good idea of who this person is and the things that have influenced her life. But this actor chose not to do that, and ended up sounding like a mockery of Latin speech and culture and not a representation of it.

If these actors would have just approached these roles in they way they would approach Blanche DuBois or George from Virginia Woolf there would be no cause for concern. It's not like they were asked to play animals or aliens. They were asked to play human beings that are part of human culture. All they need to do is study the humanity, which is what I thought theatre was supposed to be.

One of these days, I'm gonna direct an all white version on Raisin in the Sun just to fuck with people. That way, no one in the cast will be able to hide behind the "trying to find my way into it" excuse. I'll call you when I need a Walter Lee.

(I told Reuben that I would fucking love to be in his all white Raisin in the Sun. How could I not fucking love to do that?)