Last week the acclaimed production of The Colored Museum opened at Boston University’s Huntington Theatre Company directed by Tony Award-Winning actor Billy Porter. Attendees that got tickets on-line were treated to a complimentary performance.
The play is a compilation of 11 vignettes that share historical and cultural aspects of the Black experience through song, symbolism and prose set in a museum like format that allows the audience to pause and think about the messaging and imagery. Questions loom above us; in front of us – can I laugh? What does it say about me if I laugh? What am I laughing about – exactly?
The first vignette sets the tone for the all of them with “Git on Board” that turns the slave ship into an airline flight that has historical time travel properties. The idea to “remained shackled” – instead of fastening your seat belt and the well versed rule that even the audience has to comply with – “No drums”. Throughout the instructions for our flight, we are taken through a barrage of ancestral names and points in Black History and the drums….the rhythm of our story a constant companion…provides the turbulence that interrupts the scene and leads to the next.
Of the scenes, my favorite would have to be “The Gospel According to Miss Roj” played by actor Nathan Lee Graham. In addition to the flowing cat suit and futuristic hat piece he wore, creations by Anita Yavich costume designer was on point and over the top, but the messaging behind the “fabulousness” of the LGBTQ community did come with a price during particular eras. It brought to light the an several aspect of our community that are either discussed in jest or not at all.
One of the most timely and poignant pieces of the performances was “The Last Mama-on-The-Couch-Play” which really had you asking the “Why is this funny? Is this funny?” question when dealing with how the media portrays black actors, particularly the black mama, the black male and the gospel.
The only drawback performances that I had during was Ken Robinson. In both of his scenes, “The Solider with a Secret” and “Symbiosis”, I had a difficult time connecting with his portrayal of the characters. He was also difficult to hear and certain words were hard to understand with his cadence.
The most versatile actress of the night goes to Shayna Small who changes from peppy preppy, to gospel, to child-like with profound likability and depth. And the voices of Rema Webb and Capathia Jenkins rival any contemporary artists out now climbing the charts.
The play takes you through a myriad of emotions and contexts and leaves the audience with more questions than it actually answers in that it displays its acclaim much in the same vein as the film “Dear White People”. As much as the conversation of the black experience continues to be challenged and interpreted I feel that this perspective of showing jarring imagery and thought provoking insight, needs to do more with the “What now?” instead of leaving audience members hanging (figuratively and literally) to fend for themselves to find the answers after the curtain closes and the applause dies down.
The Colored Museum is being shown at the Hutington Theatre Company (264 Huntington Ave) through April 5th. Tickets start at $15.00 and you can purchase yours here!