Review: ‘The Museum Annex’ a world premiere at Central Works (*****)

The tour guides of The Museum Annex, the the first interactive museum
dedicated to the African American women’s experience:
(l to r) Julia Jackson, Ije Success, Juanita Harris,
Brittany Nicole Sims & Brenda Miles. Photo Credit: Robbie Sweeny.

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

When George C. Wolfe created his play, “The Colored Museum,” back in 1991, it was a huge success with its hilarious skewering of African American stereotypes.

With “The Museum Annex,” playwright Mildred Inez Lewis has created a worthy successor, focusing on Black American woman (the original working title of this piece was “The Women’s Annex.”)

In about two hours, which pass a lot more quicky than you’d think possible, the highly skilled company of five actors manages to skewer a wide range of stereotypes.

The show opens with one woman’s plea: “See us in all our glory and messiness and contradictions. But see us.”

“When we get free,” announces another, “everybody gets free.”

If this sounds heavy handed, don’t worry, Another woman announces: “We were going to insert a montage here of slave ships, lynchings, police brutality . . . [but] Not this time. No trauma for entertainment. We’re reaching for joy.”

And joy is achieved, although serious matters are dealt with as well.

Among the exhibits are “The Civil Rights Exhibit” in which a group of church ladies in Selma, Alabama are approached by organizers to join the movement. They are dubious, but they they do think Dr. King is hot, hot, hot!

In “The Selling of Soul Exhibit,” a group of wealthy readers of Ebony Magazine attend a fashion show where they are shocked by one model’s Afro hair style, in-your-face attitude, and African-inspired gown. It’s hilarious.

My favorite exhibit was entitled “The Promise of Reconstruction,” which provides a short and enlightening education on the realities of what happened to many “freed” slaves. Angie (who identifies as a pickaninny) announces: “I know who I is. I’ll just take my forty acres and a mule and go.” The government representatives respond, “Ummmmm. We’re still working on that.”

“I could get by on two and a half with a good hound,” says Annie.

This exchange is so contemporary, I couldn’t help laughing, but it sure did hurt, too.

“The Museum Annex” may be one of the funniest, and saddest, history lessons you will ever encounter. I highly recommend you go and laugh and cry and get you some culture!

‘The Museum Annex’ continues a well-deserved extended run through November 20. For further information, click here.

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Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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‘The Museum Annex,” by Mildred Inez Lewis, inspired by George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum.” Director: Elizabeth Carter. Costume Design: Tammy Berlin. Light Design: Stephanie Anne Johnson. Projection Design: Alexa Burrell. Sound Design: Gregory Scharpen. 

Cast:

Njeri: Brenda Miles. Margo: Juanita Harris. Lola: Julia Jackson. Angie: Brittany Nicole Sims. Bree: Ije Success.

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