Wednesday, February 20, 2008


“They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there's always magic in the air.” Ian and I got to experience George Benson’s Broadway magic in New York City over President’s Day weekend, twice.

The first was a college improv show at 116th and Broadway, which is about eighty blocks north of the theatre district, but on Broadway, and magical for the parents of the performers, just the same. Our son was both the emcee and a performer in this year’s “Fruit Paunch Formal Show,” and he did a great job. In one of his sketches he played a young schoolboy with an exaggerated lisp giving an oral report on walruses (walrutheth). He described how they had three tusks (tuthkth) that were so (tho) long that if they were laid out end to end they could stretch (thtretth) all the way to Buffalo. The college audience loved it, but I loved it more than they did. I actually remember when Colin was that earnest, bespectacled schoolboy giving oral reports with a slight speech impediment.

On our second night, the three of us had dinner at a great little Italian restaurant near campus and then took the subway to Times Square. On the train, I sat next to an artist who frenetically sketched three portraits of other passengers and a quick profile of me in our half-hour ride down Broadway. Our destination was the Broadhurst Theatre, the same stage where Joel Grey gave his Tony Award winning performance in Cabaret some forty years ago.

We had tickets to see the Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with a star-studded all-Black cast. I had never read the Tennessee Williams play or seen it performed, so I am not familiar with the Elizabeth Taylor-Paul Newman version, or any other version, for that matter. The play we saw was directed by Debbie Allen (“Fame”) and starred a foul-mouthed James Earl Jones (“The Great White Hope” and the voices of Mufasa and Darth Vader), an overweight, unkempt Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”), an alcoholic Terrence Howard (“Crash”), and a very hot Anika Noni Rose (the “Dream Girls” star who takes a back seat to Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles in the movie). Also very recognizable is a henpecked Giancarlo Esposito (“Homicide: Life on the Streets” and “Law and Order”). I can’t imagine any way in which Taylor, Newman, Burl Ives or any of their cast mates could have been superior to any of the actors we saw.

In the play, Terrence Howard’s character, Brick, is disgusted with his family’s mendacity. The word, which is new to me, describes the primary motivation for his behavior. He blames his struggles with honesty and his escape into alcoholism on his family’s mendacity, or untruthfulness and tendency to lie. He doesn’t call his family members prevaricators or outright liars, but mendacious, a term which refers to much more clandestine behavior. He accuses them of lives filled with secrecy, concealment and attempts at deception.

I like Tennessee Williams’ choice of word. Years of subtle mendacity in the lives of his characters have destroyed any good that may have once existed in their relationships, and make it very difficult for each character to recognize the truth. Keeping secrets, brushing small annoyances under the rug, keeping up appearances and refusing to face hard truths are not in the best interest of family harmony or personal satisfaction, although they may seem to be at the time. I am grateful for the new word and all that it illuminates in my own life.

Bravo to Broadway magic and neon lights!


Anonymous said...

I have also seen this production and found it to be well acted and a refreshing interpretation of Tennesee Williams script. I thought the scenes with Brick and Big Daddy to be the most compelling, and that the performances of Terrence Howard and James Earl Jones to be especially powerful. Favorite scene: Big Daddy comes into the room full of conniving family members and asks "What's that smell in this room?" Brick answers "Mendacity". Wonderful theater!

pete said...

Hooray for Colin Drummond! He'th like a thtar on Broadway!