The Colored Museum is a play written by George C. Wolfe that premiered in 1986, directed by L. Kenneth Richardson.In a series of 11 “exhibits” (sketches), the review explores and satires prominent themes and identities of African-American culture.
Git on Board: Miss Pat, a flight attendant, welcomes the audience aboard the fictional “celebrity slaveship,” whose Savannah-bound journey from the Ivory Coast demands that passengers (audience) are to obey the “Fasten Shackles” sign and are not to rebel. The sketch explores and critiques the history of African Americans, from slavery to the regency of the basketball star.
Cooking' with Aunt Ethel: Mammy Aunt Ethel host a cooking show in which she sings the recipe on how to “bake yourself a batch of Negros.”
The Photo Session: A glamorous black couple wearing “the best of everything and perfect smiles,” retreat from their past/history into a superficial world of narcissistic glamour. The Photo Session is Wolfe’s critique on the images and models of Ebony magazine.
Soldier with a Secret: In a monologue, deranged African American soldier sees his peers' painful future and chooses to spare them the inevitable by killing them before they are forced to endure what their future holds.
The Gospel According to Miss Roj: Miss Roj, a transgender woman, “looks beneath the surface of her glittery nocturnal existence to find maggot-laced visions of ‘a whole race trashed and debased’ while in a homosexual nightclub.
The Hairpiece: A woman getting ready for a date is faced with an identity crisis when her two wigs, one a 1960s afro wig, the other a “long flowing wig,” come to life and “debate the ideological identity conflicts they represented in their owner’s life for 20 years.”
The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play: Presented by a “Masterpiece Theater”-type announcer, this exhibit explores and satirizes Black drama formula used in theater and film. Some characters include a “well worn” mama on her “well worn” couch who fights with her son Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie-Jones whose “brow is heavy from three hundred years of oppression.” The Last Mama-on-the-Couch is Wolfe’s parody of Raisin in the Sun and goes from overacted melodrama to an all-black broadway musical number. The Lady in Plaid, who is Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie-Jones' wife, is nod to the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf where each of the unnamed women were referred to as The lady in [a color] (e.g., The Lady in Brown). In For Colored Girls, Beau Willie drops his kids (which he has with The Lady in Brown) out the window like Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie-Jones does to his children with The Lady in Plaid. Walters sister, Medea, represents the black Madea.
Symbiosis: A man is confronted by his former childhood self while trying to throw away his past, “only to discover that his rebellious younger self refuses to be trashed without a fight."
Lala's Opening: Singer Lala Lamazing Grace is haunted by her former childhood self, an identity she thought she disposed of.
Permutations: A monologue in which Normal Jean, a young southern girl, explains to the audience how she laid a giant egg which is filled with babies.
The Party: Topsy Washington imagines a huge party in which “Nat Turner sips champagne out of Eartha Kitt’s slipper” and “Aunt Jemima and Angela Davis was in the kitchen sharing a plate of greens and just goin’ off about South Africa.” This exhibit merges the past and present to create Topsy’s fantasy party which defies logic and limitations.
Playwright and artistic director George C. Wolfe was born on September 23, 1954 in Frankfort, Kentucky. His mother, a teacher, was among the first African Americans to study library science through the University of Kentucky Extension Program. Wolfe’s mother became the principal at the private, all-black, Rosenwald Laboratory School, where Wolfe received his elementary education, and discovered an interest in staging and directing. As a teenager, Wolfe attended a summer theater workshop at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and began directing plays. He graduated from Frankfort High School in 1972, where he wrote for the literary journal. Wolfe attended Kentucky State University in Frankfort but, in 1973, transferred to Pomona College in Claremont, California, graduating in 1976 with his B.A. degree in theater.
Wolfe wrote and directed his first play, Up for Grabs, in 1975. In Up for Grabs, Wolfe debuted his sketch framing technique and the motif of passage through doors, which became common elements in his later works. The following year, he premiered Block Party. Wolfe completed a six-month postgraduate artist residency at Pomona College before meeting C. Bernard Jackson, who funded the first production of Wolfe’s Tribal Rites at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Wolfe staged several plays in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 1979, where he graduated with his M.F.A. degree in 1983 from New York University School of the Arts.
He premiered Paradise! in 1985, and The Colored Museum in 1986, which garnered Wolfe national attention, as well as the attention of New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp. Following the premiere of Spunk (1989), Papp named Wolfe a resident director in 1990. Wolfe won his first Obie award for Spunk’s New York production that same year. In 1992, Wolfe made his Broadway debut with Jelly’s Last Jam at the Virginia Theatre, and achieved widespread recognition when he directed the Broadway premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in 1993. He was named producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival that year and went on to produce ten seasons. Wolfe also directed the 1997 world premiere of Amistad at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, Illinois. He staged Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed at the Music Box Theatre in New York City in 2016.
In 1975, Wolfe won the Pacific Southern Regional Award for playwriting at the American College Theater Festival for Up for Grabs. The following year, he premiered Block Party, receiving the Pacific Southern Regional Award for playwriting a second year in a row.
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Tiffany Gilly (she/her) is doing what she can to be an advocate and ally to Black Artists and People of Color through her art. She is an actor who seeks to support theatre and stories by BIPOC Playwrights. She started this play-reading group in the summer of 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter Movement to increase the knowledge of plays by non-White Playwrights as a starting point or a stepping stone for other artists.