This weekend in NYC, whilst attending to book biz, hanging with my aunt on the Upper West Side and visiting my 95 year old grandmother, my wife (Mrs. Nat Turner) and I scored second row seats at the Broadhurst Theatre to view Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Yes, starring Mr. Babywipes himself, along with a cast only seen lately in "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" or "Meet the Browns:" Phylica Rashad as "Big Mama" (as in the peckerwood meaning of the term), James Earl Jones as Big Daddy (reprising the Burl Ives role as a nasty old fart rather than monsterously cruel fat ol' cracker), Giancarlo Esposito and Lisa Arindell Anderson doing good imitations of my brother and my sister in law (smile)...and Anika Noni Rose of Dreamgirls as Maggie the Cat. Note to the world: Anika makes the play. Period.
I guess I can try to be diplomatic and say this: no, I wasn't disappointed with director Debbie Allen's vision, for it was Debbie Allen's vision. Circular comment? Nah. I think her direction is the factor that could have morphed Tennessee Williams' genius into something just above a Tyler Perry bama-ass "stageplay." Couple with that--or is there cause-effect?--the loud cackling, gasps, mewls, coos--that's how many black folk cheer in the theatre. Laughing at stuff that doesn't need to be laughed at. It's a gut-wrenching drama, after all, not Madea. OK, OK...lest I sound too siddity, when Shakespeare's plays debuted at Stratford on Avon, folks were in the front cheering, jeering, gasping, tossing rotten eggs--and that was during the serious tragedies and histories, not the bawdy comedies!
The PERFORMANCES truly save this production and make a classic. The cast stepped up their games. And as I said, Anika blew me away ( Beyonce would have ruined this play). As for James Earl Jones and Mr. Babywipes, they sucked me in, gave me doubts, riveted me...their interpretions of Brick and Big Daddy where as complex and satisfying as I have seen or read any father-son characters. Of course some morons would be satisfied with Morris Chestnut as Brick (rippling-pec Boris Kodjoe joins the production in another week) and Cedric the Entertainer as Big Daddy. But this is the stage. The REAL stage. The pinnacle of our first form of human expression.
So take it from me, it wasn't celebrity-worship or having an icon like James Earl Jones look right at me and smile that makes sway me to thumbs-up this play. This was a show that redeemed itself through its actors, through the craft. Too bad the audience still measures this stuff against "Norbit." Too many of us either look like or have tastes like "Rasputia!" When we got home (we drove) we unwound watching Chris Rock's "I Think I Love My Wife" on HBO. The flick was a box office flop. I thought it was entertaining. A thousand insipid white movies like it are made. But we didn't support our one pleasant and indeed (at times) realistic black version. Not enough buffonery and loud talk, melodrama a la The Browns. Hmmm, if Tennessee Williams had been a brother coming up today and not a mincing gay redneck pet of the jet-set (who could rival Truman Capote in that?), would he ever have been published and produced? Yeah, you know the answer.