I put the call out to become a member of the cast or production team for this production in May. A seasoned black expat friend of mine who has lived in Asia and Europe recently went to London to see the Debbie Allen directed version of the classic play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Here is the feedback.
The first two sentences of the Dec. 2nd review in the “Telegraph” by Charles Spencer sums up the essence of my insights on this production:
“I suspect there would be howls of indignation if a white theater company decided to perform a classic black play such as Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun or one of the works of August Wilson, who chronicled the black American experience in each decade of the previous century. And some will doubtless put it down to craven political correctness that there have been no corresponding complaints about a black company performing Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Herein lies the great distinction between the black European experience and the black American experience. White Europeans are the allies of black Americans only to the extent that we are into “protest” politics and we are the angry “antagonists” to white Americans. We are supposed to be comfortable in Europe provided that we are willing to join the black European “working classes”. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof produced by a black American capitalist Stephen Byrd and directed by a black American female director, Debbie Allen, takes us out of the working class, when we bring such ownership and operation to London’s West End theater crowd.
I’ve thought about this in relation to my own family experience. Two of my grandparents were professional, financial success stories based in a racially segregated America. One had a life long career as an accountant for the oldest and largest black American insurance company. The other owned two grocery stores and a supermarket in New York. Like the white American model as opposed to the white European model, their wealth was not inherited but “self-made” wealth. The plot of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the projected inheritance of the offspring of this wealthy “self-made” man.
White American criticism of white Europeans is one thing, but black American criticism of white Europeans is just intolerable. Herein lies the significance of your going to see the play and bringing all of your friends. The production puts white Europeans in a catch-22. “Class” has always been a pretext for disguising “racism” in Europe. It amuses when white Americans post-1965 have tried to deploy these class versus race arguments in the US. Its so ridiculous that most times within two or three sentences I’m able to get these whites to start laughing at the lunacy of their own arguments. In Europe it cuts much closer to the bone.
It doesn’t surprise me that Debbie Allen wasn’t invited to direct anything on London’s West End, until there was a Barak Obama in the American White House. I certainly realize that unlike Englands’ Queen who “lives” in her house, Obama is a mere “visitor” in the White House, but being a visitor may be all that we need to make the difference.
I personally, loved the way that the connection between finance and sexuality were interwoven into the dysfunctional marital relations of the play. I know how serious these issues are for them in reality as apart from good fiction and entertainment.
You’ve got to see it. The performance is fabulous!!
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is playing for a strictly limited season from until Saturday 10 April 2010. Ticket prices start from only £10. I think I need to head to London’s West End again.