Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 21, 1936

On May 21, 1936, the Cleveland Call and Post ran a picture of Edna Thomas, who played Lady Macbeth in the New Lafayette Theatre’s production of “Macbeth” in New York. The New York Amsterdam News ran several stories on Thomas and this production of Macbeth. In early April, the Amsterdam News described the Federal Negro Theater Project play as “the long-heralded opening which will attempt to break down the stereotype of the Negro in the theatre,” and said, “the Negro Theater is anxious to disprove for all time the palpably common belief that Negro actors are adapted only for special character parts or for dialectical bits.” Roi Ottley, a well known Amsterdam News journalist, described the premiere as a “magnificent and spectacular production” and noted that the play was a Haitian-themed version of “Macbeth.” Ottley warned “downtown visitors” from Broadway and Park Avenue that “the play is purely for Harlem consumption, and is geared and produced accordingly.”  Civil rights leader and politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. also praised the production: “‘Macbeth’ couldn’t have been better if produced by the Ministers’ Conference and Brother Divine...New tops were reached in direction, lighting, costuming, scenery, and acting.”

In his year end drama review, Ottley rated Edna Thomas’ performance as Lady Macbeth as the best performance of the year. “Footprints on the sands of the theatre were made this year by the Negro,” Ottley wrote. “True, they were at times halting, timid steps, but they left definite and unmistakable impressions. The trail blazed, the succeeding seasons should give us a developed art form in the theatre—and thus injecting a needed virus in a wan and failing American theatre.” Ottley noted that John Houseman, a white producer who initially led the Negro Federal Theatre project and helmed the “Macbeth” production, had been replaced by black personnel. Ottley thought the new theater would “be distinguished for its authenticity and audaciousness at getting to the kernel of the subjects it treats.”

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