Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

On Broadway, a Multi-Racial 'Streetcar'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

On Broadway, a Multi-Racial 'Streetcar'

Article excerpt

When it was announced an actress of color would play Blanche Du Bois in a multi-racial Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire," it seemed a dubious idea.

How could Blanche, a well-born, if faded, society belle, living in the 1940s South, be anything but white?

One person who didn't look askance was Emily Mann, an eminent director who's also the artistic director of Princeton's McCarter Theatre.

"I've been wanting to do a mixed-race 'Streetcar' for more than 20 years," she said in a recent phone conversation. "When I heard they were going to do it, and didn't have a director, I asked my agent to pitch me for it."

Mann, hired, proceeded to create an alternative identity for the delicate, neurotic character, whose illusions -- and life - are shattered by her sister Stella's crude, aggressive husband, Stanley Kowalski.

The revival of Tennessee Williams' landmark 1947 drama - presented by the producers of the 2008 revival of Williams' "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," which had an entirely African-American cast - is in previews at the Broadhurst Theatre for an opening next Sunday.

The key to her conception, said Mann, is the city in which the drama is set: New Orleans; and the place: the raffish, multi-racial French Quarter.

"New Orleans has a rich history," said Mann. "It's always been a jumble racially. And, really, the city is so mixed, it's not believable when the play is performed with an all-white cast. In Williams' stage directions, he has a white woman and a black woman sitting on the steps together at the beginning of the play."

Mann said her desire to do a racially diverse revival was stirred by reading the Anne Rice novel "The Feast of All Saints," which centered on the city's "gens de couleur libres," or free people of color. Many of them were descended from relationships between white French planters and black women. …

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