EVIDENCE ROOM PRESENTS
Archibald Absalom Wellington - Michael A. Shepperd
Queen - Marlene Warfield
Singer - Alisa Banks
Director - L. Kenneth Richardson
Stage Manager - Tracey McAvoy
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright
May 21 - April 26 2005
A clown show. Well, somebody had to do it – revisit the outlaw playwright Jean
Genet’s feverish, phantasmagorical explication/deconstruction of Negro-ness that
rocked more than a few boats back in 1961 – and I’m glad it’s L. Kenneth
Richardson. The director helmed the first production of The Colored Museum and
has always had a keen sense of the absurd, especially as it relates to race and identity;
the sounds and visuals of this show – Snezana Petrovic's color-festooned set that
suggests a nightclub with disco and hip-hop shimmering nonstop in the background – convey
that well before the actors open their mouths. The ensemble is multicultural rather than
all black – a Richardson twist – and shuttles easily between the nominal
plot (a group of blacks re-enact the murder of a nameless white woman for an imperial
white tribunal) and Genet’s dense but frequently lyrical language about the
ultimate tragedy of black folk being denied lyricism from all quarters, including their
own. Richardson presents this masque in all its modern outrageousness and complexity, and
his cast proves more than up to the task, especially Michael A. Shepperd as MC Archibald,
Victor Love as the anti-hero Village and Cesili Williams as the militant, sexy Snow. And
don't let the thematic heaviness fool you – this clown show is also a rollicking good time.
– Erin Aubry Kaplan
Director L. Kenneth Richardson's exceptional production of Jean Genet’s incendiary racial drama packs so many wallops, you don’t know where the next punch is coming from. Genet’s skewering of racial perceptions, his powerful meditation on human cruelty, and his ironic subversion of the audience’s theatrical expectations are all so powerful, the audience is often left reeling. This is Genet at his most blistering, shocking, and dangerous: One can only imagine the public’s reaction when the play premiered back in the 1960s.The show starts out with the introduction of several characters, called "Negroes" in the text, several of whom are played by white actors in blackface, several by African-American actors who are wearing blackface. The use of the trappings of minstrel-show elements is enough to induce squirming in the audience–particularly when, in Richardson’s slyly ironic staging, the characters present themselves with big, fake, toothy smiles, performing boogie-ing gyrations common to ’70s blaxploitation movies.
The Negroes have been summoned to the theatre to re-enact the murder of a white woman before an audience of VIPs. The VIPs consist of a group of characters who are meant to represent the oppressive authorities of European civilization–and they’re portrayed by a mix of black- and white actors in "white face" makeup. It turns out that The Negroes re-enact the same murder every night. And, it seems, every night, the murder spree devolves into the Negroes endlessly slaughtering the court and taking over the world.
The show’s disturbing enough on an elemental level that we see why it’s rarely performed these days. Yet, the play’s racial issues are essentially just a smokescreen: The work is ultimately about humanity’s savagery and that the trappings of civilization are as flimsy as mankind’s bestial nature is hardwired. Richardson’s staging dazzles, with blisteringly sharp pacing and a sophisticated mood of omnipresent menace that we almost feel ashamed of feeling.
Richardson is assisted by Julie Arenal’s wonderfully crisp choreography, and by Ann Closs-Farley’s gorgeously colorful and cartoonish costumes. Finally, though, it’s the eerie intensity of the ensemble that sells the work: Michael A. Shepperd, as the creepily friendly narrator Archibald, is especially terrifying–and so are Victor Love as the white girl’s killer, Cesili Williams as an angry black anarchist, and Marlene Warfield as the ill-fated "white" Queen.
– Paul Birchall