There was a certain unity between the evenly dispersed black and white audience, almost reflecting the black and white lettering of the big sign that read “COLORED” above the stage. “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” a play by Keenan Scott II, intends to create this unity by dissolving stereotypes to allow black men to be among other men in harmony.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” delves into the stereotypes that are projected onto black men in America and is set within a single day. The seven characters, who all come together in a barbershop, are based on the seven emotions that black men go through during the course of a lifetime: Wisdom, Passion, Depression, Lust, Happiness, Love and Anger.
The passion and power of the characters, which is initially portrayed through the character Wisdom (Jerome Preston Bates), is steady for every second of this play. Wisdom’s first lines included posing a question to the audience: Is a black man a king or a slave? This is an important question to the black community, as they are raised to believe they are worthy of the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of the racism they are exposed to.
The play opens when a new addition to the neighborhood shows up to the barbershop for a haircut. Happiness (Jody Reynard) is a gay man, and in his asides to the audience, he reveals the discomfort he feels as the other men talk about women and their bodies.
A big topic of discussion during the play is gentrification, something that the men felt Happiness contributed to. He came from a well-off family and lived in the apartments that were typically considered to be “for white people.” Later in the play, Happiness suggests that sometimes he wished he would have grown up like the other men, with family and a sense of community.
Happiness also becomes a message for identity as a half white, half black man. He speaks directly to many facing the same issue: “I’m too black for my white friends and too white for my black friends.” Happiness appears to be happy on the outside, but he still behaves as an outcast for the entirety of the play. He was never seen as the “typical” black guy, even by his fellow black men.
Other characters, such as Depression (Forrest McClendon) and Anger (Garrett Turner) struggle with a sense of self after being beaten down by society and never being seen as more than their outside appearances.
Although the play covered an array of serious topics, comedy was still sprinkled throughout. The character Lust (Reynaldo Piniella) had the crowd and cast in laughter as he sat down next to a woman in the audience and did a little improv on his love for the ladies.
Women are also key parts of the cast as dancers, and Woman #1 (Ashley Pierre-Louis) and Woman #2 (Hollie E. Wright) play a part in the love story plots, making them big topic of discussion between Lust, Love (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Passion (Brandon Dion Gregory). Lust, Love and Passion try to find a balance between love and life. Each man has a unique path he goes on with his love life, but each have similar struggles, portrayed through dancing, poetry and music. They battle the nervousness of having a child, the heartache from being cheated on and the intensity of the love they feel for the right woman.
While the topic of navigating love is one relevant to the black community, some love scenes may have been better off being left out as romantic aspects seemed out of place. The constant back and forth emotions of Lust and Love and the women they began to fall in love with almost overwhelmed the play.
As the play reached its conclusion, all seven emotions stepped forward, the lights shining brightly on them. They spoke to the audience, going back and forth about how being black in America really is. Racism is still incredibly prevalent today, and black men and women face adversities daily. The constant speeches to the audience via asides is truly what sets this play apart from others: The connection with the members of the audience.
When the 95-minute performance came to its conclusion and the the cast walked out receiving their standing ovation, the reason playwright Keenan Scott II did not include an intermission became increasingly clear: A pause would break the power behind the words and the passion behind the actors.
This passion, originally demonstrated when a moment of silence for Representative Elijah Cummings was taken before the play, was also apparent when the cast returned at the end of the play to speak on the impact he left on his community.
In the end, the color contrast between the audience members seemed to disappear as attendees left the theatre crying in the raw emotion evoked, something Cummings would have been proud to see as a civil rights activist.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” is playing at Baltimore Center Stage until Nov. 10.
This article was written by Jessica Bates, an intern for The Retriever. Bates currently attends Long Reach High School and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture Credit: The “Thoughts of a Colored Man” cast stands below the “COLORED” sign. Photo by Michael Davis.