September 18 – November 1, 1987
By George C. Wolfe
Directed by André De Shields
“[This] collection of eleven satirical sketches fulfill a very unusual double agenda. They not only puncture white-created black stereotypes, but they stick a nicely sharpened harpoon into some black- created sacred cows, as well. The result is an evening that is alternately poignant, hilarious and delightfully (but never radically) irreverent.
sssssIn ‘Symbiosis,’ a ‘buppie’ (Johnny Lee Davenport) throws away his history (Converse sneakers, a dashiki, Temptations records) to the protests of a hip street kid. . . . ‘Soldier With a Secret,’ [is] the story of a black vet . . . . Though delivered with fiery intensity by Davenport, its tone is jarring in relation to the rest of the pieces.
—Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times (September 25, 1987)
“Both amusing and angry in its treatment of black issues, the play, for all its literary limitations, is a very prevalent commodity on the nonprofit theater circuit this season.
sssssThe playwright has a fairly small number of themes to deal with in the 11 sketches that make up his show, hammering home in comedy and music the message that black people are not to be filed as stereotypes, that they should be free to revel in their rich heritage and that their power is in their fine madness and in their ‘colored contradictions.’
sssssPerhaps the most specific example of these repeated themes is ‘Symbiosis,’ in which a neatly dressed Buppie (black urban professional) [Johnny Lee Davenport] tries to trash all traces of his blackness-albums by Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson Five, and autographed photos of Jomo Kenyatta and Donna Summer—much to the dismay of his ragged street brother.”
—Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune (September 26, 1987)
“Sigmund Freud recognized that laughter provides relief from tension, but he also believed humor can be used to mask hostility and bitterness.
sssssThe Colored Museum performs both of these functions brilliantly.
sssss. . . And in another skit laced with both pathos and hilarity, Johnny Lee Davenport plays a middle-class black trying to deposit his blackness in the trash can. His first pair of sneakers, his Afro-Sheen, his copy of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, his Temptations album—all of it has to go, he says. But as he’s doing that, his funky adolescent self, played by Carson, appears and begins to fight with him. ‘You can’t throw out the Jackson Five,’ he screams, grabbing the album from his older self. ‘That’s living proof that Michael had a black nose.’
sssssThe mature self persists, however, eventually pitching his youthful self into the trash can, too. ‘Being black is too emotionally taxing,’ he says. ‘I’ll be black only on weekends and holidays.’
sssss. . . The humor in the show also encourages blacks and whites to lower their defenses, which allows the message of this show to penetrate even deeper.”
—Tom Valeo, Daily Herald (September 29, 1987)
“All of these ‘exhibits’ are performed by a five-person cast long on individual talent and energy . . . Of the men, Johnny Lee Davenport is the big dramatic hunk.”
—Albert Williams, Chicago Reader (October 1, 1987)
“This is a gutsy, take no prisoners play that every minority should find deadly serious . . . a neo-vaudevillian send-up of soul-stunting stereotypes inflicted on, and sometimes by, black men and women—some obvious . . . and some so recent most of us aren’t on to them yet. . . . “Soldier with a Secret” has Johnny Lee Davenport playing a freaked-out Vietnam blood who finds a drastic way to “heal the hurt” of black men who’ll only face (or commit) worse violence at home than they ever saw in Southeast Asia.”
—Lawrence Bommer, Windy City Times (October 8, 1987)
“Though most of The Colored Museum uses humor to strike at our complacency, there is a very disturbing sketch about a young soldier (Johnny Lee Davenport) who dies in Nam but who is allowed to live again so that he can fulfill his purpose bringing peace into the lives of his comrades.”
—Cheryl Miller, critic