The Color Bind

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2008

Twenty-one years after it was first seen on Broadway, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the second installment in August Wilson’s 10-play chronicle of black life in 20th-century America, will be returning to the Great White Way in April in a production directed by Bartlett Sher. That’s good news for serious theatergoers. Yet Lincoln Center Theater’s production of “Joe Turner” is already raising a ruckus of the wrong sort. Marion McClinton, a black director who has staged two Wilson plays on Broadway, recently told a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the decision to hire Mr. Sher, who is white, was “straight-up institutional racism.”

Meaning . . . what? I’m not quite sure, and neither, I suspect, is Mr. McClinton. “I am not saying a white director cannot direct a black play,” he added. “What I am saying is, are they coming at it with the same respect and diligence of study as they do O’Neill, Brecht, Chekhov?” Is he suggesting, then, that Mr. Sher, who is one of America’s most admired and accomplished stage directors, would fail to do exactly that? Your guess is as good as mine.

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