Cast members of ‘The Colored Museum’Provided photo by Brian Egland

When the queer performer Miss Roj enters in George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum,” she delivers her concise view of the world.

“God created Black people, and Black people created style,” Miss Roj says, before describing her powers as a “snap queen.”

“We joke, but Miss Roj is right out of the Bywater,” says Torey Hayward, who is co-directing the NOLA Project’s production of the play along with Tenaj Wallace. “She would be performing at the AllWays Lounge.”

In “The Colored Museum,” Miss Roj says she performs at a New York bar called The Bottomless Pit. The short vignette is one of 11 “exhibits” in the play’s conceptual museum. The NOLA Project is partnering with the New Orleans African American Museum to present the show at the Treme institution from Feb. 22-March 9.

Wolfe’s landmark drama was first produced in New York in 1986. It explores stereotypes of Black people and culture and debates within Black culture as well as framing them within Black history. In the opening scene, called “Git on Board,” a Black flight attendant welcomes guests aboard “Celebrity Slaveship.”

In a biting, satirical pre-flight welcome, she lays out safety instructions that conjure a history of the middle passage from the Gold Coast to stops in Bahia, Brazil, Haiti and Havana. Passengers need to obey the “fasten shackles” sign and there’s no drumming allowed in the cabin, she says. That journey also moves forward in time to contemporary issues.

Wolfe is known for writing “The Colored Museum” and the books for the musicals “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk.” But he’s best known for his award-winning directing work, which included productions of New York productions of both parts of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and “Caroline, or Change.”

Though “Colored Museum” is nearly 40 years old, much of the work was ahead of its time and aged very well. The drag performer Miss Roj is one excellent example.

“Miss Roj is a character I remember reading,” Hayward says. “When I was 19 reading the play, it felt like a period piece. Now you hear the lingo she uses in a play that was written in 1986, and now those words are in a Beyonce song. Black artists have become more empowered in theatrical spaces and in music on the radio. That empowerment has allowed the language and characters George wrote in the ’80s to now be in the forefront of media, possibly in a way they weren’t in 1986.”

The play is presented as if the audience are walking through a museum looking at exhibits. Hayward and Wallace are literally moving audiences through the African American Museum, with its 11 scenes taking place across six rooms.

The introduction to Celebrity Slaveship and the final piece remain in the original order, but they have changed the order of other segments. Characters in the drama and “docents” direct the movement through the space. Two performances run each day, almost overlapping as one group enters the museum and another exits.

One of the play’s more central exhibits is called “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play.” It was written as a scathing critique of formula dramas about Black people, particularly Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” about a Black family in Chicago in the 1950s trying to realize their dreams to open their own store and move into a white neighborhood.

While that drama may not be familiar to younger audiences, the scene still resonates, Hayward says.

“Now we have Tyler Perry,” he says. “‘Last Mama’ feels like a jab at Tyler Perry now, even though it was written as this farce of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ It’s been pretty powerful to see how that critique of Lorraine Hansberry’s work can be transferred onto one of the largest drag characters in Black culture.”

The exhibits also feature a cooking show, a singer, a photoshoot, a piece on hairstyles and more.

The directors have cast the work to include familiar local actors but also comedians and musicians.

The NOLA Project had originally pitched a production of “The Colored Museum” at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The theater company had developed a relationship with the museum over a dozen years of productions of Shakespeare and original works in the sculpture garden as well as numerous works inside the museum.

In August 2023, the NOLA Project announced it was ending its partnership with NOMA, saying in press release that the “Colored Museum” proposal was rejected by NOMA.

The NOLA Project has since presented an outdoor work on the Lafitte Greenway. This is its first production in partnership with the African American Museum.

Tickets $10-$38 via Shows run Feb. 22-March 9 at the New Orleans African American Museum at 1417 Governor Nicholls St.

#TheColoredMuseum #exhibit #event #ticket

Leave a comment