Ms. Pat stands center stage, gazing out at the audience with a blank stare and meeting the eyes of those unwilling. “You can’t change history,” she said. “You can’t turn back the clock.”
Ms. Pat greets the audience as they begin their tour through “The Colored Museum,” a play by Tony Award-winning playwright George C. Wolfe. The Black Theater Ensemble is giving three performances of “The Colored Museum” from Friday to Saturday in Lerner Black Box Theater.
Constance Castillo, CC ’13, Jonathan Dunn, SEAS ’11, and Diane Jean-Mary, CC ’13, co-directed the BTE production. They believe that “The Colored Museum” addresses racial issues in an unorthodox way. The play consists of a sequence of vignettes designed to undermine black stereotypes.
“What we wanted to steer away from were the type of plays that were your typical black-white, slave-slave master kind of thing,” said Dunn, who also plays the role of Miss Roj in the vignette “The Gospel According to Miss Roj.” “‘The Colored Museum’ is a satire,” he said. “But it still deals with race and race issues within the black community.”
Rebecca Clark, CC’13, a BTE member who plays the role of Ms. Pat in the vignette “Git on Board” as well as Mama in “Last Mama on the Couch,” emphasizes that the play allows people to think about and confront black stereotypes. “I enjoy the reaction that they [my characters] produce,” Clark said. “And I believe that it really makes people think about certain stereotypes in the black community that I’ve encountered. I can relate to the issues that these characters are dealing with.”
With regard to the playwright, Wolfe, and his inspiration for the play, Jean-Mary said that the vignette “Symbiosis” reflects Wolfe’s own personal experience in theater. “The world of theater was not a minority industry in any way. But on a small scale he did have a community of like-minded people,” she said of the theater scene in the 1980s.
In addition to Wolfe’s original work, the directors co-wrote a final vignette for BTE with the intent of modernizing the play for 2011. The scene presents an issue that is prevalent at Columbia and New York City as a whole: interracial dating. “We wanted to include all shades of black-on-black experience, so we created an interracial scene,” Jean-Mary said. “It includes spoken word and choreography.”
Clark, who is of biracial descent, mentioned that the new addition, “Autobiography of a Witness,” is one of her favorite scenes. “I think it’s great that we could add something that really summarizes an issue dealing with race that we see a lot in the 21st century,” she said.
“There’s a lot of laughing and a lot of profound things to make you think,” Dunn said. “It will definitely leave a lasting impression on you after the play, which is great.”
The vignettes that make up this play plant audiences on an emotional and historical roller coaster through the complexities of black culture.