This Broadway season, with its stops and starts, has been blessed with some truly stellar moments, and has been viewed with fewer disappointments, thankfully. The vibrant Ignore it was an ideal curtain lifter for an industry that was awakening. Lackawanna Blues it felt like a tonic, and Is this a room? It is as heartbreaking a work of art as any with roots in the Trump era to date.
And despite how much applause those productions were and are, they all feel a bit like a preamble to Keenan Scott II’s remarkable work. Thoughts of a colored man opens, the first fully realized reflection of the era of closure. A game of immense compassion and insight, with a vision of the dreams and disappointments of its characters, Thoughts of a colored man is a hymn to life as survival and celebration, a tribute and exploration of black men who find beauty, dignity, frustration and inspiration where they can.
Mixing spoken word, slam poetry, uproarious comedy, drama, and sharp dialogue, Scott’s words meet Steve H. Broadnax III’s directing flourishes that are so charming they provoke gasps. Both the playwright and the director are newcomers to Broadway, and their Thoughts of a colored man It is wonderful from start to finish.
Set in a Brooklyn neighborhood that is just beginning to feel the changes of gentrification, the play tells the stories of seven black men who share space and heritage. Each character is not named until the end of the play, with one exception that will not be spoiled here, although what is revealed are not really names but character themes. One is called Love, another Happiness, another Wisdom, etc.
The names, however, do not limit the characters, they do not summarize them in wordy signifiers, but rather serve as themes of exploration, starting points for considering the varied and complicated factors that motivate, frustrate and inspire them. A character known as Lust, for example, is not simply the epitome of sexual libido, a lewd and comical predator, but a young man whose longing for connection finds its most eloquent expression in the physical, both imaginary and real.
Performing alone and in a variety of groups, the latter arriving with more joy at a scene set in the neighborhood barber shop, are:
- Love (Dyllón Burnside) and Lujuria (Da’Vinchi), childhood friends, one given to poetry, the other to touch, and each given to the other through thick and thin;
- Happiness (Bryan Terrell Clark), a gay bougie man who just moved in, renting a condo with his lover in the fancy new skyscraper who is not entirely welcome in the neighborhood;
- Wisdom (Esau Pritchett), barbershop owner and veteran of the black power movements of the 1960s and ’70s, a mentor and guide who exceeds expectations;
- Passion (Luke James), a young teacher who delights in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for life with his “126 children”;
- Depression (Forrest McClendon), a stifled intellectual who gave up a scholarship at MIT to care for his ailing mother, and now works stocking shelves at Whole Foods;
- Anger (Tristan Mack Wilds), a once-up-and-coming basketball player now dedicates himself to coaching student athletes who have every opportunity that he will never get back.
In vignette after vignette, presented as a day in the life of this Brooklyn neighborhood, the characters, beautifully portrayed by one of the best ensembles on a New York stage today, come to life so vividly and with such authenticity that we are continually surprised by the unexpected. Happiness, for example, begins its day with a jog, taking in the sights of its new neighborhood (it is originally from the south, through Manhattan) and in doing so it almost demands that we see these old streets through its eyes. Later, when this newcomer first arrives at the barbershop, his dilemma, to go out or not to go out, is illustrated in such a split-second style of pure comic inspiration that the audience for the featured performance erupted in applause. and laughter that almost stopped the scene.
Selecting other passages and monologues here seems both random and unfair, but since Thoughts It doesn’t contain so much a narrative plot as it does impressionistic moments, here is just a taste of what to expect:
- Anger’s speech to the audience, as he stocks the supermarket shelves and reflects that the aisles of the store “are cotton fields,” shows an inner life that his customers will never understand. He advises them and us: “You could be talking to a genius. You could be talking to I. “
- A disquisition on the cultural significance of the new Air Jordans, as discussed, with the infallible feel of genuine conversation, as Anger, Love, Depression and Lust wait in line for the latest release, each man offering a reason for their purchase , not one of the implications and nuances of these objects of commerce and beauty are unknown;
- In a slam soliloquy that should reach countless audition reels, Anger recalls his glory days on the basketball court, with the chorus “Man, he used to be nice” repeated at intervals with subtle variations in delivery, even heartbreaking and exhilarating. effect. Nice like Jordan fades nice. When I stepped onto the pitch, the stars aligned, the world stopped spinning, gravity stopped, and I seemed to jump higher. Man … he used to be nice. “
On a beautifully lit largely empty stage (with a projection design by Sven Ortel that incorporates Brooklyn realism and pictorial flourish, and should, by all rights, reignite the call for a Tony Award category specifically for this form of art) evokes a universe, in one example almost literally: in an astonishing sequence in which Burnside’s Love recites a poem not so much against a starry night sky but as one with it, the audience is engulfed in punctual illuminations, a theatrical coup which brings all aspects of this production – Scott’s words, Broadnax’s direction, the visual and aural designs, and the actor’s incredibly fluid grace – together in a moment of sheer significance. “I grabbed my moon easel and my cloud palette,” he says, recalling a love at first sight, “and started adding stars to his masterpiece.”
Surprisingly, that’s not the only time like this, but naming them all would be an attempt to play the play here from start to finish. In order not to put too much emphasis on it: Thoughts of a colored man It’s one of the best new plays to hit Broadway in a long time – pre-pandemic ages, to be clear, as funny, poignant, complicated and wise as the seven men and their collaborators offstage who give him encouragement.