Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oakland Center for the Arts - The Colored Museum

Friday Night several of my friends and I went to the Oakland Center for the Arts in downtown Youngstown to see the play, "The Colored Museum". Let me say this, there is humor and satire and then there is "The Colored Museum". The satire in this play is brilliant! It will make you laugh, and then five minutes later have you crying because of sadness of it all. It is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster ride. The author of this play is George C Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is not a timid writer; he manages to convey the unthinkable with great wit and humor. The play was written in 1985 during the post-Vietnam War era. It is comprised of eleven vignettes which are actually a series of eleven live exhibits in the Colored Museum. The director of the play is Johnny Herbert. This is his directing debut at the Oakland. He has brought together an amazing cast and creates magic on the Oakland stage.

The play begins with a vignette called "Git on Board" in which Carla Gipson in her role as Miss Pat, the stewardess, welcomes and advises slaves/passengers on the Celebrity Slave Ship how to effectively fasten their shackles. She gives us a preview of the trip in terms of slavery and the results of slavery, i.e. the modern African American. Carla Gipson as a perky stewardess delivered a punch of shock satire that caused immediate suspension of disbelief in the audience and prepared us all for an incredible visit to the Colored Museum. When the plane landed Miss Pat advised that all baggage left on board will be trashed. This statement is the thread that stitches the play together, as the play is really about the burdens and the baggage of pain, anger and struggle that are the legacy of slavery. “All baggage left on board will be trashed."

Each scene examines the desire of African American people to escape centuries of suffering that have been a continuous source of baggage. Throughout the play, the audience often doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, and often the result is both. The performances by Samantha Daisher first as Normal Jean and then as Topsy brought tears to my eyes, but for different reasons. The heart strings are pulled taut with tension in Daisher's performance as an abused young woman named Normal Jean who struggles with not feeling special; and then in her performance as Topsy she evokes a tear for the sheer beauty of her pride and celebration of self. Samantha Daisher is new to the Youngstown community; I hope to see her in many more performances.

In this play, the author embraces all sides of identity conflict. Kim Akins-Vocks gave a hilarious performance in the vignette called "The Hairpiece.”. This vignette exposes the private, personal thoughts we all have when we attempt to create our persona and confronts the painful issue of self image. In her portrayal of a conflicted woman, Kim Akins-Vocks has us laughing at her, and ultimately ourselves, when she runs screaming from the room in attempts to discard two unwanted personas.

Kenneth Brown took on several characters in the play and brought authenticity to each. His swift and total transformation into character shows Kenneth Brown to be a gifted performer. Brandon Martin a regular on the stage at the Oakland once again provided a wonderful performance. In addition to his acting skills, he is a talented dancer. He is well known for his performance in both The Exonerated and Lucasville, and should not be missed here in "The Colored Museum" as he performs the dark role of a "Soldier with a Secret". Roz Chapman's performance as Aunt Ethel in "Cookin' with Aunt Ethel" will have you moving to the music. She is a veteran performer and brings tremendous dramatic skill to the stage in her performance as mama in "The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play."

Thomas Fields in his first appearance at the Oakland, served as the narrator of the show, and gave a very intense performance as "The Kid" in the vignette "Symbiosis". I expect that we will be seeing a lot more of him at this venue. Fields also performed as a member of The Company. The Company is comprised of Nikita Jones, and several students from the Youngstown City Schools. Fields is a student from Chaney, as is Samantha Daisher. Tera Lobaugh is a recent graduate of Chaney High School, and Vincent Matos is a sophomore at Youngstown Early College. Together they kept the show upbeat and lively.

I could tell you more; you know how verbose I can be, but I really want you to go see this play! In fact I think that it is essential that you see Lois Thornton as the Lady in Plaid. She will crack you up and have you howling! Lois Thornton is a tremendous gift to our community. Not only is she talented performer but she volunteers her time to Destination Imagination,a nation-wide, community based program, where kids work cooperatively. They take what they know and what they are good at and learn to apply creativity, critical thinking and talent to solve challenges as a team. So come on out and support this tremendous cast of performers. You won't regret it and you too will be telling your friends to fly Celebrity Airlines.

Also, The Star Gallery at the Oakland presents Frederick "The Count" Molton. So make certain that you visit the gallery when you come to see the play. His work is a perfect complement to the show. He is best known for his ability to capture raw emotion as well as produce masterly quality art in a surprisingly short period of time. He loves to do performance pieces. Opening night, he sat to the side of the stage painting and by the end of the performance had completed a remarkable work of art.

Play dates for "The Colored Museum" are February 16,21,22,23 at 8:00 PM and 2/17 at 2:00 PM. The location of the Oakland Theater is 220 West Boardman in downtown Youngstown. Call the theater at (330) 746-0404 for reservations. Don't forget to have dinner at one Youngstown's downtown eateries and drinks at one of the many clubs and bars located there. Make it a night out! I did and as you can see I had such a wonderful time I'm writing about it today.

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