So. I'm going to say something here. I'm going to put something out there, kind of bluntly. And it may not be pretty. I don't normally call people out like this, but this time, I can't avoid it and can't put it nicely.
I think MTC is a racist institution. Flat out.
To be fair, most of our institutional theatres are, but this one is just plain dumb obvious.
There just really isn't any other possible reason for their lack of institutional support for their production of RUINED. I saw it and it is flat-out awesome, as many, many people have said, repeatedly. It is smart, heartfelt, touching and incredibly brave. It's also a classic "play" play: unit set, all in one place, naturalistic storytelling (with some lovely touches of theatricality), strong characters and poetic language. It's been extended six times at MTC's Off-Broadway home. And, oh, yeah, it won the Pulitzer Prize (just in case you hadn't heard). Not to mention near universal acclaim. So...it runs Off-Broadway and as noted in many other places, this is what they're running in their Broadway theatre. Not this. And this is next year.
I don't throw the race card out there often, but I honestly can't imagine what else is going on there. When a show opens Off-Broadway to wide acclaim and big, shiny awards, the buzz machine starts going. Whenever something closes, they start talking about whether it can move in there. And this year, for RUINED? I haven't heard a peep. Not on Playbill. Not anywhere. Not even a story about how they'd love to move it but there aren't any open theatres. Because there are.
Well, maybe it's the cast size. Because large-cast straight plays just don't do well on Broadway. The same goes for ensemble dramas without a big name star in them. But then again, plays with all-black casts are huge, colossal failures, so no one would want to take that kind of risk.
And that kind of thinking is the worst kind of institutional racism. The kind that sees a stirring, beautiful play as a "black" play with a limited audience, in spite of all the obvious signs. The kind that makes you think the theatre programmed it because it was the good and noble thing to do, not because they thought the play had legs. But then to basically ignore it and let it languish Off-Broadway instead of making any effort to move it, that's another level of cowardice. (And, yes, before you start in, I don't think that playing to full, 299-seat houses is languishing. This isn't about the merit of the work; it's about equal treatment.)
Just for the record, the audience tonight was well-mixed, if not a little on the ordinary theatre side. A lot of older white folks, a few older black folks, a smattering of young people. And it was nearly entirely full on a Tuesday night.
I want to give the staff and board at MTC the benefit of the doubt. I really do. And I don't mean to be some anonymous guy out here ranting on the internets and cut them down. But after watching this play and the tremendous effort given by an incredible cast, it deserves more, a broader stage, a bigger audience, a wider reach. And it deserves a theatre to give it that support. If only MTC had a Broadway theatre that is devoted to producing new, challenging works that it could move into. Oh, right.
Seriously, though. This situation speaks to the institutional racism that drove August Wilson nuts. Because I don't think that anyone who works at MTC is a racist, or is thinking, "Well, RUINED is a black show, so we're not going to give it our support." I just think that the whole system is rigged against a show like RUINED and geared towards a show like AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Maybe they have tried and failed to find the capital or the right theatre or something. Or maybe they got a lot of "Not interesteds." But they left it there. They didn't take it to the press, to their audiences, to the wider world. And if they tried and no one cared...well, that's another matter. But I'd think that MTC has some pull in this town. Somehow, so far, it isn't moving further and that's the fact.
And I just had to call it out. A part of what's going wrong is that we're not calling things out when we see them. Especially after seeing this play, I couldn't sit by and say nothing. So it's out there.
If I'm wrong about any of this, please, please let me know. I'd love to be wrong about this.