A night at ‘The Colored Museum’ makes for a magical evening

  • By Kenya Vaughn

Seating was beyond capacity.

Those who could not find a seat were forced to stand and look down from the balcony as the Black Rep revisited George C. Wolfe’s African-American theatre staple, “The Colored Museum,” at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis last Monday.

By the start of the show, the balcony was also full.

In fact, there was barely a piece of wall to lean against anywhere within CAM that offered the slightest vantage point of the performance.

The original plan was to rotate the 11 skits about the black experience that comprise the play throughout the museum, but the size of the crowd required a shift in logistics.

The company of performers would have to stay put in the lecture area, but the show went on – and it was glorious.

The Black Rep presented the free staged reading of the play on June 20 as part of the 6th Annual Project 1VOICE/1PLAY/1DAY – an event presented in association with a variety of other theater companies, museums, and institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad as a fundraiser for programming and activities.

This showing wasn’t the norm for The Black Rep. Aside from the venue, the cast featured stage veterans paired with local celebrities – most of them popular media personalities.

Debra Bass of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bonita Cornute of KTVI-TV, Carol Daniel of KMOX Radio, Art Holliday of KSDK-TV, Gary Gunter of Radio One St. Louis and The American’s own Wiley Price were among them.

Each performer seemed to relish their time in the spotlight. The veterans coached and directed the unlikely actors, and the result was something bucket lists are made of.

“The Photo Session” exhibit featured Bass, who is fashion editor for thePost, and Price, The American’s veteran photojournalist, pretending to be on the other side of the camera.

They posed and pony-walked across an imaginary runway, personifying Wolfe’s skit that brings Ebony Magazine print models to life.

Price elicited howling laughter as he strutted across the stage, relying on the years of what he’s seen while snapping photos from the end of the runway. Bass was as smug and pretentious as any stereotypical supermodel as she embodied a runway diva.

Even though 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of “The Colored Museum,” the themes resonated profoundly with the audience – and the performers.

Mama Carol on the couch

“The Colored Museum” was created nearly 10 years before Tyler Perry caught on with audiences as an urban stage producer/writer/director/star, but Daniel’s performance as the church-going mother who takes no mess from her adult wayward son seemed to be plucked from any given “Madea” production.

For “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,” CAM echoed with laughter as Daniel delivered a powerful backhand to her son for “using the Lord’s name in vain.”

The skit pokes fun at the formulas of drama found in African-American film, television and urban theatre. It also featured Holliday as a classically-trained theatre announcer who presented on-site awards for their most outlandish performances.

Daniel’s spot-on portrayal of the stereotypical urban stage matriarch continued as she plopped her entire body across the couch – which is a standard of the set – and crawled across the floor in the name of “her baby” in order to secure her statue. This bit caused even her fellow cast members to erupt with laughter in the middle of the performance.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t quit my day job,” Holliday joked after being greeted with a high five following his performance.

He was actually quite good. They all were. 

Other crowd favorites included “Cooking with Aunt Ethel,” “The Gospel According to Miss Roj,” “Soldier with a Secret” and “Lala’s Opening.”

But the undisputed champion of laughter for the evening was “The Hair Piece,” featuring Cornute.

The exhibit features two wigs fighting for the attention of their owner – and demanding to be worn on her next date. CAM erupted when the wigs went after each other like catty “frenemies” to persuade Cornute’s character.

“I played one of the wigs in college,” Lula Gladden said with pride as she waited for the particular skit to be played. “It was so much fun.”