Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fasten Your Shackles; The Colored Museum Is On!

I sometimes wonder when plays like The Colored Museum – that highlight societal issues such as race and identity – come to an end; do people’s souls shake them into an intense introspection or do they walk away and get back to their usual living of life.

The Colored Museum written by George C Wolfe on at the Market Theatre now, directed by James Ngcobo; is a 90 minutes dissecting of what it means to be black in America using humour and song.

It runs until the 23rd of February, Black History month in the United States. Black History month is an annual period when important people and events in the history of African Americans are remembered. This has been happening since 1926.  It was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, He took it upon himself to write Black Americans into the American history when he realised that the black population was ignored or when mentioned it was of an inferior nature.

Hence the importance of a play like The Colored Museum which features 11-living ‘exhibits’ explores African-American identity using stereotypes, satire and humour. It gives the audience sitting in Newtown, Johannesburg, a glimpse into the history of African Americans.

The cast is a remarkable show-off of South African talent, mostly fresh faces or underrated young actors.

The explosive talent! 

The play hit the stage for the first time in1986 – it is as relevant today as it was 28-years ago. Black-identity issues are not just African American issues. So many of the themes dealt with in the play could easily be retold using the South African narrative.

What does it really mean to be black?

The theme that mostly stuck out for me is how music seems to be the one thing that Black people use to highlight their pain or hide it. From meaningful musical pieces that questioned the status quo, to meaningless narcissistic works that ignores the pain.

Our state of mind seems to be linked to the music we create, listen and dance to. And with the music comes the identity. At the most part it feels like that we are scared to explore and appreciate our true identity.

“Don’t play your drums” – the black slaves are told by Miss Pat, played by Altovise Lawrence, on their way to America on the Celebrity Slaveship. Who are we?

The Colored Museum got me thinking about that. It got me thinking about how we acknowledge our history. Look at how we’ve renamed Sharpeville Day, Shaka Day, June 16 and so on.

It feels like the black person’s narrative is to make the ‘others’ feel comfortable.
“We traded in our drums for respectability” – says Miss Roj, played by the captivating Lebo Toko.

The Coloured Museum also looks at issues of religion, our ideas of what success is and material trappings. The acting is magical; Miss Pat – played by Altovise Lawrence – sets the scene at the beginning that makes the entire 90-mins easy to follow.  

I generally have a soft spot for Aubrey Poo. Ever since I heard him singing in Dream Girls, I get goose-bumps when his voice fills the theatre. I last heard him at the opening of the Market Theatre’s Main Theatre – I got so excited. He has that voice made for musicals and Jazz. His singing confirms that there is a God!

They make it look so easy!
Another actor that stood out for me was Caroline Borole, she plays Aunt Ethel. She had the audience gushing and applauding from a spirited place after her monologue.

Greg Maqoma was instrumental in bringing the choreography to life and Bra Hugh Masekela gave a hand in teaching the cast the ‘Chain gang songs’.

If you are looking for meaningful humour with a global touch and loads of raw talent – make sure you got watch The Colored Museum.

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