In 1986, George C. Wolfe debuted a satire of the African American experience, "The Colored Museum." In 11 vignettes, the playwright let loose on the kinks, pains, ironies, heartaches, injustices and opportunities bestowed on the black community. His is a brave, bold assessment of history's effect on identity.
Thanks to stellar casting, Stageworks' production of Wolfe's play is equally inspired. Anna Brennen, assisted by Ron Bobb-Semple, directs this highly entertaining show.
Frank Chavez's set design represents a museum exhibition, where each story was "installed" in one of three spaces on a rotating stage. The first exhibit, "Git on Board," begins the theatergoer's metaphorical journey across the Middle Passage.
Historically, Africans were wrenched from their homes and constrained on ships bound for North American enslavement. Here, however, passengers have boarded Celebrity airlines, tended by flight attendant Miss Pat (Stephanie Roberts). She instructs everyone how to fasten his and her shackles, refrain from drumming and singing, and avoid rebelling to reach Savannah safely.
Subsequent exhibits feature Aunt Ethel (Gloria Bailey) cooking up a pot of secrets, a soldier (Joshua Goff) who foresees the painful future for black veterans and a drag queen (Robert Richards) whose snazzy patio pants and shocking-pink 'do mask a dark past.
"Symbiosis" shows an assimilated black man (Kibwe Dorsey) who tries to discard evidence of his heritage. While a few laughs lighten the mood, they can't diminish the man's fierce desperation to avoid emotional liability.
"The Hairpiece" is a hilarious riff on black hair and image. Bailey played the curly wig and Tia Jemison is the straight one. With Roberts between them getting ready for her date, the two heads bickered over who bore the best attributes for dumping a bad boyfriend. Jemison cracked me up, but Bailey stole the show.
Jemison gives one of her finest performances to date as Normal Jean Reynolds, a teenage girl who gives birth to an egg in "Permutations." "The Last Mama On-the-Couch Play," narrated by Kibwe Dorsey, is a riotous, intentionally over-emoted spoof on "A Raisin in the Sun."
The pièce de résistance, by far, is "Lala's Opening." As the French-fried, Diana Ross-like diva known as Lala Lamazing Grace, Roberts brings down the house with her hysterical facial expressions and over-the-top diva moves. Jemison steps in again as a comical nebbish maid.
The only problem occurred during the tug-of-war scene in "Symbiosis," as it revealed the set design's vulnerability. Every heavy step made the "walls" wobble. Other than that small glitch, this production was parody done right.
'THE COLORED MUSEUM'
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 21
Where: Grand Central at Kennedy, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., West Building, Tampa
Tickets: $27.50; (813) 251-8984 and www.stageworkstheatre.org