“Thoughts of a Colored Man” at Baltimore Center Stage is a surprisingly tender show; yes, it has anger and sorrow and exhaustion, but there is a golden wire of tenderness running amongst and between the characters that helps keep a kernel of hope alive.
These are incredibly strong performances. The language is strong and lilting and conversational. This is a play that demands full attention to their lives, complete and complicated. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Make the trip to Baltimore and see this.
The cast of seven men and two women command that stage. Through a series of vignettes tied together by the experience of living in a changing neighborhood—one undergoing gentrification—it explores the complicated reality of black men’s lives. Hopes, dreams, limits, viewpoints, biases—it’s all on display through their interactions, and their movements.
While I might quibble at the roles of the two female characters—Ashley Pierre-Louis as Woman # 1 and Hollie e. Wright as Woman # 2—being just identified with numbers, this play is about the experience of being black men in a society that marginalizes them and fears them and reflexively assigns them roles that are comfortable for the larger white society.
As Wisdom, Jerome Preston Bates provides the long view, and grounds the work. The proprietor of the barbershop in this neighborhood, he is still crazy in love with his wife and excitedly awaiting the birth of his first grandchild. He is also the most reflective—when some of the younger men make a fag joke, he nips that in the bud; one of the newcomers to the neighborhood is a gay black man (Jody Renard as Happiness), and Wisdom understands that those unthinking words, on top of the racism each faces, is incredibly hurtful. In his quietly authoritative way, he’s leading the neighborhood to think about their words and attitudes.
This is not a play that offers easy answers. In a confrontation at the new Whole Foods between Depression (Forest McClendon heartwrenchingly portrays a man forced to give up his dreams and still adjusting to that) and Passion (Brandon Dion Gregory) who comes from an upper middle class background and is trying to balance being black in a white business world; they make a real connection, but still remain apart by circumstances and choices. But they choose to listen to each other.
And that’s the tenderness—the characters listen to each other. The two youngest—Ryan Jamaal Swain as Love, and his BFF, Reynaldo Piniella as Lust—talk some trash to each other, but they support each other and don’t step on each other’s approach to life and love.
Garrett Turner as Anger was tossed aside in college when his knee snapped in a basketball game, but he’s now teaching basketball. His deftness and sorrow bring to the fore that razor-thin line between giving up and finding a new path.
These are incredibly strong performances. The language is strong and lilting and conversational. This is a play that demands full attention to their lives, complete and complicated. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” is written by the poet-playwright Keenan Scott II. As directed by Steve H. Broadnax II, the play uses a spare set and the richness of the language to create mind pictures of each vignette.
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes and language.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” runs through November 10, 2019 at Baltimore Center Stage, Baltimore, MD. For more information, please click here.