One pleasant surprise of “Thoughts of a Colored Man” on Broadway Wednesday night is that it’s far more entertaining than its glitzy and literary-sounding title.
You expect the college curriculum to resemble a book, in fact the stomach gets a laugh and a tear or two. And at 90 minutes, the show isn’t even a second longer or shorter.
Keenan Scott II’s new play at the Golden Theatre, with refreshing warmth, gives us what it promises: the inner music of a group of black men from New York.
These often friendly, sometimes belligerent, always charming people live in Brooklyn neighborhoods where barbershops scour the form of Whole Foods and luxury condos are viewed with suspicion and envy by longtime residents.
90 mins. At the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
With its controversial BK setting and poetic language, “idea” can come across as a Spike Lee joint that has no relation to Spike Lee. This is a good thing.
The names of the men in the script are: Passion (Luke James), Love (Dylan Burnside), Lust (Da’Vinci), Happiness (Brian Terrell Clark), Anger (Tristan “Mac” Wilds), Depression (Forrest McClendon) and Wisdom ( Esau Pritchett) – don’t worry, they don’t call each other like that – and their surnames add up to their age. The 20-year-old is obsessed with sexless sex, while the lost man in his mid-30s finds life hard to bear as a pile of bills.
And that’s what’s most successful about Scott’s writing—his ability to be both street-corner specific and universal at the same time. Find me a 35 year old man who can’t relate to debt and purposelessness. (Okay, leave Lady Gaga out of it.)
Scott also says that not everyone’s life experience in this navel is the same. Khushi just moved into a luxurious high-rise apartment with her boyfriend and feels excluded from their community because he is gay and makes good money.
“Why is conflict synonymous with being black?” he asks.
In the form of depression, McClendon hit home hardest. The character stocks the aisles of the fancy grocery store to help support his brother, and all day he is forced to work for glitzy customers who can’t find kombucha.
“Tired of living. Afraid to die,” he says. Ouch.
McClendon is a particularly fascinating actor to watch. The cast, who was in the shattering condor and ab musical “The Scottsboro Boys” on Broadway a decade ago, jumps from emotional extreme to emotional extreme like a child stomping in a puddle. In an instant, he’s crazy, shy, ticklish or prickly awkward.
Wisdom, meanwhile, is an African immigrant in her 60s who runs the block’s barbershop, and Magnetic Pritchett gives the drama a grounded moral right.
Not everything works out in Scott’s play. Some scenes seem hastily written and don’t connect with the bigger picture at all. For example, Rage is a college basketball coach and gives a monologue in which he is disappointed that one of his players already has an endorsement deal—and a diamond-studded watch—in accordance with the new NCAA rules.
Out of the limelight? Yes. handled confidently? No.
Rage’s later speech about his own failed b-ball career, part of a crescent to an emotional end, is more powerful and introduces the character better.
Sometimes I wished director Steve Broadnax III’s staging, set in the shadow of a billboard projected multiple locations, was something a little more polished. The entry and exit of characters seems to be arbitrary and the stage can be used more dynamically. But you know what? – Too many shows these days are being polished by auteurs until they are fuzzy, textureless blobs. Several sleek, ultra-bright British imports are to blame for that crime.
It makes sense that a show about ugly, cute people got a creepy, cute production.