A Personal Take on the Cat On A Hot Tin Roof All Black Cast in London

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.”

(Read the full review)

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.

Join the All-Black Production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London’s West End

Broadway transfer on look-out for British ‘new, black talent’
Published Thursday 23 April 2009 at 15:15

An all-black Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring James Earl Jones, is transferring to the West End this autumn and has launched a search for a UK creative team from “non-traditional” backgrounds.

The show, which was a major hit during its 20-week run in New York last year, will have a part US, part UK-based cast, but is looking for an all-British crew with a focus on “new, black talent”.

The show’s US director Debbie Allen is visiting the UK in June to step up her search for the West End team.

Producer Stephen C Byrd told The Stage: “Debbie’s mandate is that she is looking for people who need an advantage, ie, people of colour who have not had an opportunity to work in the industry before.

“We try to subscribe to giving anyone an opportunity who has talent. We’re looking to bring the show over in the fall [autumn], but we haven’t firmed up the theatre yet.

“It will be a major West End theatre and we’re looking to replicate what we did in the States, where we were the biggest grossing play on Broadway last year.”

He stressed that the UK production would have an all-new creative team, who would re-imagine the show for the West End. “We want a whole new set, a whole new sound, a whole new look,” he explained.

Phylicia Rashad will be the other performer coming over from the US staging, while Byrd said he was in talks with Adrian Lester to take on the part of Brick, played by Terrence Howard in the New York staging.

The role of Maggie has not yet been cast.

For more information, email info@treagusstoneman.com