On a warm autumn evening, we ducked into Golden Theatre to catch the new Broadway play by Keenan Scott II, “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” This thought-provoking show offers a glimpse into the lives of several black men living in New York City – their joys, struggles, and particular experiences through various mediums of spoken word.
The play opens up with seven men lined up across the stage, decked out in various combinations of red and black. Each portrays different vastly different characters, apparent from their clothing and clarified further as we learn their personalities, backgrounds, and values. Luke James’ mesmerizing voice fills the theater to open up the show, and after some dialogue the opening scene leaves the audience with this question: “who is the colored man?” Through 90 minutes of spoken word, slam poetry, rhythm, and humor, Thoughts of a Colored Man addresses this question by diving into the lives of each of these fictional New Yorkers.
In a Brooklyn neighborhood on the cusp of rapid gentrification, six homegrown residents and one recent mover discuss class struggles, intersectionality, and prejudice through conversations and heavy internal monologue. They relate with one another on subjects of love, sex, parenthood, and education, and clash with each other on the very same, while lamenting about gentrification symbols such as the Citibike station and Whole Foods. We learn who they are to the world, and who they are to themselves, with emphasis on the latter. The key title word “thoughts” here demonstrates this, as the audience does not remain on the outside looking in – the struggles felt by each man reverberate through the theater after each monologue.
The characters represent key emotions, we learn towards the end of the show, and are played by Dyllón Burnside (Love), Bryan Terrell Clark (Happiness), Da’Vinchi (Lust), Luke James (Passion), Forrest McClendon (Depression), Esau Pritchett (Wisdom), and Tristan Mack Wilds (Anger). The idea that each of these men can be synonymous with a singular emotion feels uneasy, as the show has just illustrated how nuanced and complex each of them are. This reduction parallels a much more serious problem: how black men are dehumanized by society and the law and seen as one-dimensional despite the truth.
While Thoughts of a Colored Man doesn’t breach uncharted territory, or shock audiences with groundbreaking revelation, it boldly reminds us of what everyone knows yet brushes under the rug in order to function on a daily level. The experience of black men cannot be understood through news headlines, protests, and outrage at inequity. The world must listen to the stories of individuals, because the collective dehumanizes, and the opening question “who is the colored man?” cannot truly be answered.