Sunday, May 27, 2018
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'The Colored Museum' still rings true today

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

The Colored Museum is more than 25 years old, but George C. Wolfe's satire on race in America is no museum piece, according to Ron Bobb-Semple, assistant director of the production by Stageworks Theatre.

"Some things haven't changed — the unemployment situation of black males, for example," Bobb-Semple says. "To me what The Colored Museum is about is baggage, the pain, the anger, the struggle that the legacy of slavery has brought to bear on the African-American identity."

If that makes Wolfe's play sound like heavy going, then think again. Its 11 "exhibits" of black stereotypes include a sketch titled "The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play" (a parody of venerated classics like A Raisin in the Sun and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf), a debate between a pair of wigs (one a 1960s Afro), a character named Miss Roj who portrays what it's like to be gay in the black community and gags about The Color Purple and Michael Jackson's nose.

Director Anna Brennen enlisted Bobb-Semple to assist on the play, which opens the Stageworks season. "Anna felt she needed my input in molding things that she, as a Caucasian woman, may not be privy to," he says. "When it comes to the fabric of our community, she leans on me to fill in the blanks."

The all-black cast includes Stephanie Roberts, Kibwe Dorsey, Joshua Goff, Tia Jemison and Gloria Bailey, with Alvon Griffin on drums. The Colored Museum is early Wolfe, former artistic director of the Public Theater in New York. It came before his Tony Awards for directing the first part of Angels in America and Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.

Bobb-Semple, 60, was born in Guyana and pursued an acting career in New York for more than 30 years. He moved to Tampa six years ago, and has been in three of American Stage's productions of August Wilson plays, Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Seven Guitars. He performs a one-man show on the patron saint of black nationalism, The Spirit of Marcus Garvey, which he is touring this month to England, Germany, Belgium and France.

As something of an elder statesman, Bobb-Semple found himself teaching a little African-American history during rehearsals of The Colored Museum. For example, a reference to Huey Newton, an iconic Black Panther, had to be explained to some of the younger performers.

"I have a passion for imparting my knowledge and my experience to young actors," he said. "I have been in the trenches for a quite a while. If I can lift them up, if I can inject something in them that will give them a different point of view, to make their performance a little better, I am happy to do that."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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