Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker Address Streetcar Critics
By Adam Hetrick
Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker, who star in the Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, are speaking out against critics of the multi-racial production that offers a fresh perspective on the historical context of Tennessee Williams' drama.
"What you see on that stage is humanity," said Underwood, who plays Stanley, during an interview with MSNBC's "The Ed Show," when asked to respond to dismissive critical response to the production, which opened to mixed reviews April 22 at the Broadhurst Theatre under the direction of Emily Mann.
The revival is produced by Stephen C. Byrd and Alia M. Jones of Front Row Productions, who were also behind the all-African-American revival of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway in 2008. That production later transferred to London, garnering the Olivier Award for Best Revival.
Underwood and Parker singled out John Lahr's December 2011 New Yorker article, in which the veteran theatre critic asked for "no more infernal all-black productions of Tennessee Williams plays unless we can have their equal in folly: all-white productions of August Wilson."
Parker commented, "I kind of respect his courage in a way. To come out in 2011 or 12, and say such dismissive, kind of uninformed racial comment, you know, he's putting it on the table. The only way we can really affect any kind of change is if this white critic really tells how he feels, and he did."
In a May 14 Facebook post, Underwood also cited criticized the "racist rants from NY Times critic Ben Brantley masquerading as a 'review.'"
In its review of the production, Variety pointed out that "the physical beauty and sexual magnetism [Underwood and Parker] bring to these iconic characters would surely delight Tennessee Williams."
Underwood posted the following on his Facebook page and encouraged fans and readers to spread the word:
Once you know your history and know that there was indeed a culture of people (in the 1700s), endemic to Louisianna called the "gens de colour libre," or "free people of color," and that these people owned plantations & some actually owned their own slaves, there is no basis to dismiss the backstory of our Dubois sisters who hail from their family owned plantation called Belle Reeve. Or to dismiss the part of the story where Blanche Dubois pines for an oil millionaire called Shep Huntleigh. If these dismissive Nay Sayers knew their history, they would know that there were a number of black people that owned oil wells in the 30s & 40s....
As long as we stay in our place & do only the great "Black" classics, like Fences, Porgy & Bess, A Raisin In The Sun, etc. your artistry will be lauded & touted, (as it should be), but if you dare step into the deified realm of Tennessee Williams, expect profound resistance & resentment.
We are not being judged based on the work. It is the "power of the idea," that seems to unnerve the "elite;" the idea that people of color could produce & perform Tennessee Williams and do it well. The beauty in all of this is that when an ideas time has come it cannot & will not be ignored!
The cast is led by Golden Globe Award nominee Underwood ("Sex in the City," "In Treatment") as Stanley, Parker ("Soul Food," "Boogie Nights") as Blanche DuBois and two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Jack Goes Boating, Anna in the Tropics) as Stella Kowalski.
Also appearing are veteran dancer-choreographer Carmen De Lavallade (Come Sunday, House of Flowers, "Carmen Jones") as Stanley and Stella's Mexican neighbor, Wood Harris ("Above the Rim," "Remember the Titans") as Blanche's suitor Mitch, Tony nominee Amelia Campbell (Waiting in the Wings, Our Country's Good), Aaron Clifton Moten, Jacino Taras Riddick ("White Collar," "Army Wives"), Matthew Saldívar (The Wedding Singer, Grease) and Count Stovall (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Driving Miss Daisy).
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