Lend Me Some Shoe Polish: Is casual blackface appropriate in 2012?

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I have to get this off my chest.

Lend Me a Tenor, the third door-slamming farce to land on a Shelby County stage in the past month, needs to be put out to pasture. Frank Rich was right when he described the 80's-era hit as being all things farcical "except for hilarious." But it's not the absence of laughs (for Frank & me) that makes me think it's time to let this one fall into obscurity. It's the blackface.

This isn't just knee-jerk political correctness on my behalf, though that accusation is inevitable. I've never been one to rule any set of words or images off limits simply because they are offensive to someone. Offense is a tool in every artist's chest and, used wisely, interesting things may be accomplished. That's not the case with Lend Me a Tenor.

Blackface, 2012
  • Blackface, 2012

Tenor is set backstage at a production of Verdi's Otello and true enough, Shakespeare's famous Moor of Venice has been a common blackface role. But this isn't an historical artifact or a thoughtful exploration of another era and ethos it's a common sex farce. And the bulk of the play's mistaken identity humor is built around the notion that when a couple of white guys slap on blackface and an afro wig nobody can tell them apart.

That's a problem for me, even if the play isn't malicious.

I was surprised when Tenor showed up on Theatre Memphis's schedule in 2003, gobsmacked when it received a high-profile revival in 2010 and a little disappointed to see it on Germantown's season this year.

I'm curious to see how GCT's Tenor comes together because, in spite of my personal issues, Ken Ludwig's script is tightly wound, and some very fine people are involved in the production. I'm also curious to know if I'm the only person who thinks this show has outlived its "sell by" date?

For dates, times and ticket information, here's a link.

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