I was excited to see that Blair Underwood is starring in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams on broadway! His reviews are amazing and there is even talk of a Tony award. This morning while I was working out (YEAH!) I watched an interview with Blair Underwood on CNN. The interviewer was asking about how race played a part in the role. This question really surprised me. As an actor, and a browned skinned woman I don’t primarily look at my characters by race. Yes race might build the character or influence nuances if necessary but I feel that her question seemed to condescend the work of an actor. Stanley is a man of working class, struggles with his marriage, makes wrong decisions, and has a temper. There are universal characteristics that are common between humans and therefore characters. My acting professor said it really well, “everyone wants to be loved.” Sometimes that desire is what drives people to do crazy things. As actors we have to look at it from the character’s perspective not just an external perspective to build that character into a real believable person on stage. It’s easy for a person looking in from the outside to see race first and then draw a conclusion that all actions, thoughts, art is produced from that first. But the person is a person doing the work of an artist, scientist, engineer, etc. first.
I admit that it’s cool to see a play that was written in a time where blacks were very oppressed in this nation revived by a black cast. But I think that it shows that struggle, pain, mistakes, and desire is a cross cultural, cross gender issue. I’m not trying to ignore the fact that race in our country brings so much baggage but as someone who falls between races and culture I tend to ponder on these issues quite a bit.
In a quote from USATODAY.com Underwood says:
“[Tennessee] Williams lived in the French Quarter..he knew that gumbo of culture, the interconnectedness of the different people who lived there. This production has that.”
What do you think about race and art? Does it matter or does it bring more depth to the process and product?
You can find out more about the play here.