Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 13, 2021
Thoughts of a Colored Man. Written by Keenan Scott II. Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III. Associate director Debra Walton. Scenic design by Robert Brill. Costume design by Toni-Leslie James and Devario D. Simmons. Lighting design by Ryan O'Gara. Sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman. Projection design by Sven Ortel. Music by Te'La and Kamau.
Word is out, it would seem. The audience at the performance I attended was pretty much evenly represented racially, and, as a bonus, most there appeared to be at least a decade or two younger than my generation of baby boomers who have filled Broadway seats for a very long time. Truly a shot in the vaccinated arm of the "fabulous invalid" and proof positive that jukebox musicals are not the only way to draw a youthful crowd.
Black lives matter very much to Mr. Scott, whose emphasis in the 90-minute work is on the first two words of what has become a political football of a statement whose meaning is abundantly clear to many and a red flag to others. To understand that "Black lives matter" in the context of Thoughts of a Colored Man, it is best to begin by casting eyes on actual Black lives. More specifically, it is the lives of seven Black men ranging in age from their early 20s to their 60s who live in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn that is starting to feel the impact of gentrification.
The play operates comfortably on two levels. One is a naturalistic portrait of a community, with the characters musing on their own or interacting with one another in pairs or groups. The other approach takes on a mythic quality, in which the characters are seen as representative of the range of personalities within the community. With respect to the latter, none of the men has a name; rather, they are identified in the script and in the program by their dominant personality traits. These are Love (Dyllón Burnside), Happiness (Bryan Terrell Clark), Wisdom (Esau Pritchett), Lust (Da'Vinchi); Passion (Luke James), Depression (Forrest McClendon), and Anger (Tristan Mack Wilds). The surprise that should not be a surprise is that love, happiness, wisdom, lust, passion, depression, and anger are shown to be universal human attributes.
I was particularly taken with Esau Pritchett as Wisdom, the proprietor of a barber shop where the group regularly gathers. He is the elder statesman of the community, an immigrant African whose perspective on life has been shaped by experiences the others will never know. I was also deeply moved by Forrest McClendon as Depression, whose ambitions have been thwarted by family demands. But there is such a universality to this collage of Black lives that everyone will connect most directly with whichever of these characters hits home the most.
Keenan Scott has written of the process of creating Thoughts of a Colored Man that he felt a need to create characters "that embodied the emotions of myself, and my father, my grandfathers, my uncles, my best friends and many other men from neighborhoods I've lived in. My ultimate goal was to foster empathy." That goal has been most decidedly and beautifully achieved.