Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Director Sherri LaVie Linton’s program essay on The Colored Museum notes that it’s “anything but subtle.” But don’t go expecting a stage revival of In Living Color. George C. Wolfe’s collection of vignettes is sometimes sketch comedy, often hilarious. In one surreally funny scene, a woman (Janice Menifee) primps before her mirror as her two wig heads bicker about which hair is more appropriate for her upcoming breakup date: Janine (the wonderful MaConnia Chesser) says her kickass ‘Fro will do the job, but LaWanda (Laura Daye) argues for the petulant tossability of her sleekly straightened mane. But not all of the “exhibits” in this museum will leave you laughing: G. Alverez Reid is chilling as Junie, a disembodied soldier, who sees the inner wounds of his living comrades and heals them by becoming an angel of death. In the epic satire “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,” a whole menagerie of African-American problem-play stereotypes chews the scenery—there’s even a character portraying the portrait of Jesus on the wall. Here rebellion, racism, infanticide, and murder are played mostly for yuks—the oppressed hero Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie Jones (Reid again) is ultimately killed by the Man, causing his survivors to erupt into a gospel breakdown—but all at once, the scene takes a sly turn: One minute you’re caught up in the good-time music, the next you’re noticing the rolling eyes and big-tooth grins of minstrel-show bigotry. It’s a stunning shift, and the Capital Renaissance Theatre pulls it off with panache. The six-person cast, all playing a number of roles, is uniformly excellent; each actor inhabits each character wholeheartedly. And if the minor changes to Linton’s economical set design take a little longer than they should, the crowd is rewarded with entertaining interval music; my crowd sang along with a recording of “My Girl” in three-part harmony. (We were also really good on “War! Hunh! What is it good for?”) The show isn’t always an easy ride, but Linton & Co. make that clear from the opening scene: It won’t be just white folks squirming when a middle-passage flight attendant instructs the crowd to obey the “fasten shackles” sign. However, if Wolfe’s themes—of remembering the past and understanding stereotypes—are heavy, he wisely avoids didacticism in favor of lightness of tone. The Colored Museum turns out to be a fun house. —Pamela Murray Winters