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The Colored Museum

Innovative new revival of George C. Wolfe’s classic play at Studio Theatre.

Studio Theatre’s The Colored Museum is thought-provoking and the cast keeps you riveted with their superb acting, dancing, and singing. Studio Theatre Artistic Director, Davud Muse, says about the play, “Nearly forty years after its premiere, the references are dated. I wish the concerns were. The Colored Museum’s central subject and question, broadly speaking: How should Black Americans deal with the past? How can they acknowledge and honor it, and how can they escape from or transcend it? The play sees itself as part of that attempt to move beyond that past. It traffics in stereotypes to help liberate us from them.” I found it fascinating to watch and listen to. But I am sure as a white man, my experience of the play will be very different from a Black man or woman, sitting in the theater. I want to ask them what they thought of when seeing this play.

The play is directed in an interesting way by Psalmayene 24. The Victor Shargai Theatre has been transformed into a satirical museum of outdated, but persistent, conceptions of Black history and experiences. Students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, produced art pieces, or “exhibits” for the museum, which the audience is invited to take in before the show begins.

Teresa Castracane, courtesy of Studio Theatre
  Ayanna Bria Bakari, Kelli Blackwell, William Oliver Watkins, and Iris Beaumier   Photo by Teresa Castracane, Courtesy of Studio Theatre

The theater itself was transformed with wooden benches instead of the regular seats, and they weren’t very comfortable for the ninety-minute, no-intermission, production. We were told they were to get you to be slightly uncomfortable, as the show begins wanting you to pretend you are on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic. I was told seat cushions had been ordered, but hadn’t yet arrived. I am not sure how the CEO of Celebrity Cruises would feel, since they call the ship, a Celebrity ship. The humor begins immediately, in telling this very serious story of the slave ship, when the first scene is done to perfection by Ayanna Bria Bakari (Woman 1) in a flight attendant uniform, telling people to stay in their seats, and not to enter first class. It is really effective, and she is wonderful. The play is a series of vignettes sharing the Black experience in many different ways over the years.

It is a serious story told in an often humorous way, by the extraordinarily talented cast which includes; Matthew Elijah Webb (Man 1), Kelli Blackwell (woman 2), Iris Beaumier (Lala/woman 3), and William Oliver Watkins (Man 2). They make a perfect ensemble cast. Then there is also the talented Jabari Exum, who is the drummer. On this day Ruth Benson was (Girl). Each member of the cast gets a chance to shine, and in one number they pass around a small Oscar statuette to each other. Iris Beaumier has a wonderful number as Lala, who represents the likes of Josephine Baker, at a time when talented Black women had to travel to Europe to get the recognition they richly deserved.

Adding to the enjoyment of the show is the very talented creative team. It includes; Costume Designer, Moyenda Kulemeka; Lighting Designer, Jesse Belsky; Sound Designer, Matthew M. Nielson; Music Consultant, William Knowles; Choreographer, Tony Thomas; and Projection Design, Kelly Colburn. 
The Colored Museum will be at Studio Theatre through August 11, 2024. I urge you to order your tickets today.