Sunday, May 23, 2010

Show #24 "The Grapes of Wrath" at Lakewood Playhouse

It's a tricky and somewhat sensitive and divisive issue for some people.

It has been the cause of riots and demonstrations. Some have been imprisoned and gone to war over this. And others have used it to give themselves a sense of entitlement or privilege.

What is this horrible issue, you ask? To put it bluntly, it is race.

In the theatrical world (as well as the television and film industries), race is no small matter. Even community theatre becomes a microcosm of the greater society in what they do, whom they represent and how they segregate.

Take a look at most theatres' season schedules. What sort of stories are being portrayed? For instance, during the Seattle Repertory Theatre's 2009-2010 season, aside from their production of August Wilson's "Fences," I believe I only saw two other actors of color on their stage all year.

Community theatre's track record is no better. At least we can applaud the Seattle Rep for presenting a story about the Black experience in America. It never occurs to most other theaters to do the same.

But to the fine folks at the Lakewood Playhouse, and their wonderful artistic director Marcus Walker, I shout a big thank you. Your commitment to include all actors in the community, regardless of ethnicity, is a tremendous and powerful statement.

"The Grapes of Wrath" is usually portrayed with an all-white cast. But here was the Joad family, with a Caucasian father and mother, but with a Black daughter and an Asian son. I also noticed other members of the ensemble who were Black and Hispanic. Suddenly, the Joad's story wasn't simply about a white family from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. It became about ALL of us.

Yes, there is an important role that "ethnic" theatre plays in our lives. Hats off to wonderful local theaters such as Tacoma Musical Playhouse, who recently staged "Flower Drum Song" and to Lakewood Playhouse, who announced as part of their 2010-2011 season, "The Joy Luck Club." These stories of America's people of color must be told.

But what of our other stories? Aside from the stories specifically about a particular ethnic group, are they not stories about ALL of us here in America?

Look around you. Do we not live, work, play and worship with our friends and neighbors of all ethnicities?

So why isn't the theatrical stage reflecting this great truth?

Ladies and gentlemen of the theatrical community, I respectfully ask you to widen the circle of your minds and hearts...and your art. I guarantee you, all three will benefit.

Production photo courtesy of photographer Samantha Camp

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