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STAGE REVIEW : More Than a Little Attitude in 'Colored Museum'

August 06, 1992|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Some blacks get nervous watching "The Colored Museum." Some whites too.

The talk got a little itchy during a recent intermission at the Long Beach Community Playhouse Studio Theatre, where the George C. Wolfe play runs through Aug. 29.

"I'm not sure about all of this. . . .," a stylish black woman sighed to her stylish white companion. "The images cut a little close." The white man nodded sympathetically. "I'm not sure if it's OK to laugh at certain things."

Aww, go ahead. Wolfe prefers it that way. "The Colored Museum," which had successful runs at the Mark Taper Forum and the Westwood Playhouse in 1988, is shaped to provoke laughter now, discussion later.

Wolfe--whose "Jelly's Last Jam," about the contradictory life of jazzman Jelly Roll Morton, is one of the more brash rides on Broadway right now--here offers his slant on various corners of "the black experience" in 11 vignettes, most of them revealing and punchy.

A couple are a little full of themselves, and at least one (a surreal number about a girl and the giant egg she's hatching) may be baffling. Another weakness: Wolfe approaches black rage only tangentially. In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, his vagueness seems particularly out of touch.

Still, his best reflections go beyond the familiar and probe for personal truth, especially when they prod or elbow aside stereotypes and cliches. In Long Beach, Jim Goins' provocative staging is hip to all of that.

The drawbacks seem to be economic: Despite a smoothly revolving stage (a first for the playhouse), Phil Lubman's minimal sets seem to have been constructed on the cheap. Actors look like they brought their own props (in one scene, a soldier deep in a Vietnam jungle appears to be carrying a BB gun).

The thrift store veneer, however, doesn't intrude on the capable cast, which includes two whites who do one skit in blackface. The mugging by Jason E. Carmichael, Jackie Cressel-Gichohi, Simone Stephens, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Brad Larimore is monumental in "The Last Mama-On-The-Couch Play," adding to its satirical swipe at Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun."

After listening patiently to her son Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie-Jones (Carmichael) wail, "Mama, I gotta be a man!," Mama (Cressel-Gichohi) says: "I know, son, but wipe your feet first."

In an earlier sketch, "Cookin' With Aunt Ethel," Deborah Kellar parodies Aunt Jemima brewing up "a batch of Negroes," happily tossing in all sorts of ingredients, including a "little attitude . . . whoops, put in too much!"

The evening's best performance may come from Ken Elliott in "The Gospel According to Miss Roj." As Miss Roj, Elliott explains what it must be like to be both black and gay ("not your regular oppressed Negro") in ways that are at once angry and tragic.

'The Colored Museum'

A Long Beach Community Playhouse Studio Theatre production of the play by George C. Wolfe, directed by Jim Goins. With Aaron Braxton, Jason E. Carmichael, Jackie Cressel-Gichohi, Ken Elliott, Edward Young Gay, Deborah Kellar, Brad Larimore, Shelley Pabst, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Simone Stephens. Sets by Phil Lubman. Lighting by Art Brandt. Costumes by April Grey. Continues Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. with matinees at 2 on Aug. 16 and 23, at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Tickets: $9 and $10. (310) 494-1616.

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