The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Colored Museum is a series of eleven short scenes with no intermission. Each scene is titled and self-contained, a separate “exhibit” in a museum that illuminates what it means to be African American in the United States during the 1980’s. A few of the scenes feature two or more actors speaking to one another, but in many of them the characters speak directly to the audience. The first scene, “Git on Board,” features Miss Pat, the ever-smiling flight attendant on the Celebrity Slaveship. In language that echoes the traditional patter of the information given before takeoff, Miss Pat instructs the audience to pay attention to the “Fasten Your Shackle” sign, to refrain from drumming and call-and-response singing while the flight is in progress, and to “abandon your God and worship a new one.”

“Cookin’ with Aunt Ethel” is a parody of a cooking show, whose star is a black woman with a bandana. As she sings a “hard-drivin’ blues” song about her procedure, she tosses in ingredients including style, flair, rhythms, attitude (“OOPS! I PUT TOO MUCH”) and humor to make “a batch of Negroes.” “The Photo Session” is an exhibit of“a very glamorous, gorgeous black couple” dressed in expensive clothing. They are models for Ebony Magazine, and their every move is rehearsed and beautiful. Photographic slides of black soldiers from past American wars are flashed on the wall to open “A Soldier with a Secret,” an exhibit of a black combat soldier who has died and returned as a kind of ghost. After his death, he explains, he was able to see the future in the faces of his comrades. He saw that several of the “colored boys” were going to suffer terribly back home after the war, so he methodically killed them one by one to spare them pain.

“The Gospel According to Miss Roj,” one of the most controversial exhibits in Wolfe’s museum, features an elegant and arrogant drag queen who dances at a club called “The Bottomless Pit.” Miss Roj describes his life as a series of...

(The entire section is 842 words.)