Broadway review by Adam Feldman
“But you don’t hear us, though!”: That is the refrain of the seven characters in Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man, voiced in unison at the end of the play. It’s a direct challenge to the world at large, but also specifically to the Broadway audience—mostly white, unlike the actors onstage—that has come to see this full-hearted survey of seven Black men in modern Brooklyn. In language that moves between dialogue and slam-poetry style jazz verse, Scott gives each of them a hearing.
In some ways, the play suggests a companion piece to Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but its characters are identified by personality traits instead of colors, and it incorporates far less music and movement (though the schoolteacher called Passion, played by Luke James, sings briefly and beautifully). Much of the show consists of personal monologues; there is also a storyline that follows the men from dawn to dusk on a single day as they interact in locations including a barbershop, a grocery store and a line to buy the latest Jordans.
Lust (the likable Da’Vinchi) is a young guy on the make, and Love (Dyllón Burnside) is his dreamy, moony counterpart. Anger (Tristan Mack Wilds) is a once-promising athlete sidelined by an injury, and Depression (a distinctive, snappish Forrest McClendon) is a genius who has given up his studies to support his family by working at Whole Foods. Happiness (Bryan Terrell Clark) is a well-heeled gay buppie who uses gender-neutral pronouns for his lap dog. Wisdom (Esau Pritchett) is a Nigerian-American barber in his sixties who keeps a swear jar in his shop and doles out guidance. (“When an elder speaks make sure you listen,” he says.)
The play touches on a wide range of problems faced by these men (gentrification, absent fathers, financial strain, violence) as well as some of their pleasures (mentorship, parenthood, sneakers, romance). Although they are costumed in black, white, grey and red by Toni-Leslie James and Devario D. Simmons, Scott aims to give them a full palette of colors beyond their allegorical-sounding names. Some of those colors are deeper than others. Love is often trapped in gummy lyricism (“The world fell silent as I listened to the internal instrumental my heartbeat made. As I came behind her, I touched her shoulder like the wind”), and with so many topics to cover, the characters are sometimes overwhelmed. Under Steve H. Broadnax III’s artful direction, however, the cast avoids falling too neatly into types, and Depression and Happiness emerge with particular individual clarity. When the play is at its best—when the rhythms kick into place, and the details pop, and the language sharpens to a cutting edge—one is grateful for the voices that Scott has brought to Broadway.
Thoughts of a Colored Man. Golden Theatre (Broadway). By Keenan Scott II. Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.