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Susan Stroman Is White! A ‘Scottsboro Boys’ Observation: The Clyde Fitch Report

November 11, 2010

The Brown Tweed Society is pleased to welcome new contributing partner Leonard Jacobs, Editor of The Clyde Fitch Report, who will routinely weigh in with news from the New York theater scene and ongoing arts issues.

I’d like to make an observation. It concerns the Broadway musical The Scottsboro Boys tangentially but critically. I ask that you tolerate my brief digression, for I promise to return to the premise of this post.

In the spring of 2009, Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of August Wilson’s brilliant play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, inspired debate among Broadway’s chatterati because Bartlett Sher, indisputably a white man, helmed the show.

As the New York Times noted, Wilson pointedly did not want white people directing his work. It was also true, the Times reported, that Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, approved the choice of Sher — as well she should have: He’s among our most resourceful, respectful theatrical directors. Yet Romero’s approval was greeted with unease, even hostility, by several prominent African Americans in the theater, thus drawing the Times’ attention. (And also the Wall Street Journal.)

Marion McClinton was first out of the gate and certainly the most strident. He called Sher’s selection “straight-up institutional racism.” (The phrase, quoted by the Times, was originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which seems to have digitally scrubbed it.) Hard to parse or spin that one positively, if you ask me.

More measured in his comments was Kenny Leon, a veritable wizard of Wilson who helmed last season’s blockbuster revival of Fences. For him, Broadway lacks a “level playing field” for black directors. (Let’s also recall that audiences on Broadway are nearly 97 percent white.)

The questions suddenly raged:

Can white directors — should white directors — direct so-called “black plays”?

Let’s take that a step further:

Read More…

Visit Leonard Jacobs and The Clyde Fitch Report daily for for more posts on arts, theater and politics. Follow the Clyde Fitch Report on Twitter at @clydefitch.

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