Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Colored Museum
Studio Theatre Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

George C. Wolfe created The Colored Museum in 1986 as a pointed satire of the Black experience of that time–and its evisceration of stereotypes has substantially influenced other theatrical works ever since. Studio Theater in Washington, which previously presented the work in the late 1980s, has given it a new incarnation: an interactive experience complete with artistic "exhibits" inspired by the play, some of which were created by students at the city's Duke Ellington School for the Arts.

Five shapeshifting performers–Ayanna Bria Bakari, Kelli Blackwell, Iris Beaumier, Matthew Elijah Webb, and William Oliver Watkins–take on a dizzying succession of roles in the 90-minute performance; they also can be found roaming the aisles in the flexible Victor Shargai Theatre.

While some of Wolfe's issues may seem dated on the surface, inspired director Psalmayene 24 and the cast tear into their characters with both humor and ferocity, demonstrating that some wounds take longer than others to heal.

Rather than a set, "environmental designer" Natsu Onoda Power has curated a space in the lobby and the theater itself with a few cultural touchstones. Some are subtler than others: the rough wooden planks bordering the seating area may suggest the cramped interior of a slave ship, but they remain open to interpretation. (True, the opening sketch does concern a cheerful flight attendant aboard a slave ship, telling passengers to fasten their shackles before departure.) Kelly Colburn's projections add depth and detail to each vignette.

The most famous exhibit in Wolfe's "museum" is his "Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play," which sends up both Lorraine Hansberry's classic A Raisin in the Sun and inspirational Black musicals. Other characters "on exhibit" include the bitter "snap queen" Miss Roj, Aunt Ethel and her subversive cooking show, a couple who have found happiness in superficial appearances, a successful businessman attempting the literal erasure of his past, and Lala the internationally famous and supposedly self-made diva.

Specific mention must go to onstage drummer Jabari Exum, who provides the heartbeat that connects the scenes, and Ruth Benson as a young girl who won't be silenced.

Moyenda Kulemeka's costumes share the playwright's double vision, drawing on cliched images to create something deeper.

The Colored Museum runs through August 11, 2024, at Studio Theatre, Victor Shargai Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit

By George C. Wolfe
Directed by Psalmayene 24
Music by Kysia Bostic
Woman 1: Ayanna Bria Bakari
Woman 2: Kelli Blackwell
Woman 3: Iris Beaumier
Man 1: Matthew Elijah Webb
Man 2: William Oliver Watkins
Girl: Ruth Benson
Drummer: Jabari Exum