Review: The World Premiere of THOUGHTS OF A COLORED MAN is Captivating at Syracuse Stage

By: Sep. 15, 2019
Review: The World Premiere of THOUGHTS OF A COLORED MAN is Captivating at Syracuse Stage
The company of Syracuse Stage's production of Thoughts of a Colored Man.
Photo by Michael Davis.

Syracuse Stage opens its 2019/2020 season with a world premiere production of Thoughts of a Colored Man, written by Keenan Scott II and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III. It is co-produced with Baltimore Center Stage and two commercial producers, Brian Moreland and Ron Simons, who anticipate moving this new play to New York after the run in Syracuse and Baltimore (beginning October 10). The play is real, raw, and truly captivating; the emotional and powerful stories are conveyed through music, dance, and poetic language.

Thoughts of a Colored Man is set over a single day in New York. Seven men give a glimpse of what life is like for men of color in the 21st Century. Each scene covers a very specific subject, including interracial dating, sexuality, poverty, violence, education, single-parenting, and more. As such, the audience should expect adult language and subject matter, including sex, violence, and rape.

The actors share their character's life story with the audience, sometimes breaking the fourth wall. The inner content of their hearts and minds are on full display as each character conveys their hopes, dreams, and fears - sometimes with the aid of poetry, music, and dance.

Millicent Johnnie's emotional and expressive choreography makes this production truly stunning as dancers Ashley Pierre-Louis and Hollie E. Wright perform alongside the actors delivering some very powerful and poetic language backed by DJ Chesney Snow. Te'La and Brother Kamau's music along with Johnnie's choreography makes this production visually stunning. The music assists with smooth scene changes.

Robert Brill's minimalist set - featuring a platform with some steel beams holding up an upper level with a large screen (projection design Sven Ortel) with the word COLORED on it - allows the poetic and emotional language and stories to take center stage. Ryan J. O'Gara's meaningful and detailed lighting design captures each mood and setting beautifully.

The audience does not learn the names of the seven men until the end of the production - and each name is an emotion - Wisdom (Jerome Preston Bates), Passion (Brandon Dion Gregory), Depression (Forrest McClendon), Lust (Reynaldo Piniella), Happiness (Jody Reynard), Love (Ryan Jamaal Swain), and Anger (Garrett Turner).

While many of the topics explored are quite serious in nature, there is plenty of room for some comedic moments and all of the actors deliver lines with great skill. All seven actors are invested in their characters and deliver astonishingly expressive portrayals of their characters. Much of the time they perform alone on stage or have the spotlight shining only on them - as if time is freezing - as they deliver their thought-provoking and chilling monologues. However, there is one scene where they perform together in a barbershop. Here, they display great chemistry with one another.

Jerome Preston Bates is commanding and confident in the role of Wisdom, the owner of the community barbershop who has been married to the love of his life for so many wonderful years. Brandon Dion Gregory delivers an expressive and heartfelt performance as Passion. His smile lights up the stage. Forrest McClendon, as Depression, steals the spotlight in the opening scene with his hilarious line delivery, portraying a man working in a grocery store dealing with a difficult customer. As the play progresses you can't help but feel and care about this depressed, but sweet and caring man. Reynaldo Piniella as Lust brings the laughs in the wild, carefree role of Lust. He quite often steals the spotlight especially when he breaks the fourth wall with such charm. Jody Reynard delivers a memorable and moving performance as Happiness, a successful gay black man who just moved into the fancy new high-rise apartments in the neighborhood. Ryan Jamaal Swain as Love is hypnotic as he delivers his lines with fierce and poetic energy. The audience rightly hangs on to his every word. As Anger, a high school basketball coach, Garret Turner delivers a chilling and breathtaking monologue about the exploitation of the college athlete that leaves the audience silent. Turner's performance often sends chills down your spine because he plays Anger with such thoughtfulness and consistency.

The climatic end of this play that just absolutely takes your breath away, but I will certainly not give it away.

The story, staging, acting, and artistry are all spot on and a play such as this absolutely deserves the chance to move to New York. The world premiere production of Thoughts of a Colored Man, beautifully directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, is a jaw-dropping, thought-provoking, and incredibly real production that is not to be missed at Syracuse Stage.

Running time: Approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.

Thoughts of a Colored Man runs through September 22, 2019 at Syracuse Stage located at 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse, New York 13210. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions, call the box office at 315.443.3275 or click here.