“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” with White Slaves, Black Owners

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Philadelphia, home of America’s Declaration of Independence, in May will witness a local theatre company declaring its artistic independence: EgoPo Classic Theater will offer the historic Uncle Tom’s Cabin: An Unfortunate Melodrama with an ironic twist: black actors will play the slave owners and white performers will portray the slaves.

30EgoPo artistic director Lane Savadove has worked with Glenn Odom, a literary studies professor at Rowan University, on a new script for the drama, which decades ago received various adaptations-based on the 19th century’s best-selling novel-ranging from serious theatre to minstrel shows.

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Savadove explained in an interview for the Philly Post:

We’re doing a realistic, naturalistic version that will be incredibly respectful of the novel. We’re not writing anything. We’re using the book word-for-word, cutting it just so that it works in a theatrical format. I really want the novel to speak for itself on the stage. This is not going to be some post-modern version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The play got tagged as racist not because of the book but because of the minstrel shows. The book was written as an anti-racist piece, and in the last 10 years, the top African American scholars like Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West have gone back to reclaim it as an important part of racial history. And so, we wanted to go back now that it’s seen in this new light and create a new theater version.

Not everybody in the Philly artistic community agrees with Savadove’s approach, according to the Philly Post‘s article, which you can read here. But, as one skeptical interviewee said, “that doesn’t mean it won’t make for interesting theater.”

The play is scheduled to run May 29-June 16.