POST: 'The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World' - could they be muses?
What's it about?
The story of a black man strapped to his seat, dead onstage and (what I believe to be) muses. It's what I learned from his death, that's what I believe the play is about. Oh, and there are some fun characters, Beyoncé background music and a stage which lights up like a dance floor.
What'd I experience?
PXP: on the scene!
This was the image I was greeted with upon walking in. I immediately felt fear, which I believe is completely reasonable. A dead man strapped to a chair is not exactly an inviting "Hello". But what freaked me more was an electric chair covered in the shadows at the back of stage. Refer to the terrifying image below, if you please.
It totally creeped me out. I guess the show started with exactly what the title suggested. But it left me confused and concerned. How did this come to be and how did it connect to the play and its greater picture? Would this horror-movie-feeling suspense subside?
Before I was able to answer this, the play erupted into a parade of whimsical characters, all of whom were actors of color which filled me with joy. But I questioned - what purpose did they serve? Their costumes and clothing were all different and seemed inappropriately happy in the atmosphere of death.
Were these actual characters? Were these perhaps ghosts? Could they be muses? Could they be ideas? The itch to know left me thoroughly eager as I sat with fascination observing each character dance and sing. I believed them to be an attack on racism - which the dead character seemed to embody. Like a happy attack: approaching fire with water rather than fire.
Sitting in my seat I couldn't believe that racism could be transformed into such a victorious thing. The characters and their rainbow of differences created a curiosity in me that made me want to investigate it all, especially the play. Characters like Hatsheput with her dazzling gold dress and bold personality left me feeling like I was watching Burlesque with her star quality. There was a neurotic cute character named Peaches and Prunes who I found unforgettable, yes that is in fact her name. She repeated it constantly throughout the play to make herself known, it was super cute.
There was also this guy:
He was quite the model, but also quite the representation of theatregoers my age -- he was the youngest. He looks like he's gonna sneeze and I wish I had a better pic but I couldn't be a creep and sneak a pic. This will have to do *shrugs*
The plays dialogue was abstract, in the sense that many pieces were broken English or mere words and phrases (remember that 'Prunes and Peaches' gal?). And even with all the fun going on with these whacky characters, there was a dark puzzle my mind was trying to assemble. I felt as if it was celebrating something, but just what was it celebrating? I was eager to know and ten times more eager to pause the play and ask the characters what they were doing!
And then reality hit: the stage went dark and a noose was lowered and wrapped around the model-kid-guy.
A seriousness sank into my heart and the stage spewed smoke and fog, which made it feel dream-like. I didn't understand why the noose was lowered around him when it was the main character who had died. Then I had a thought: the main character represented the entire community of people of color. And all the playful cartoon-like characters embodied different expressions of their culture.
The play to me seemed like a collection of snapshots, suggesting a bigger picture. It looked to me as if the celebration had nothing to do with the deaths onstage but more as if it was a tribute to those who died at the hands of racism. I remember one character specifically shouting "WRITE IT DOWN" as if to say the legacy of the celebration of black culture and struggle must be recorded and remembered. So here I am, writing it down, what I believe the play suggested for me to do.
There's so much I left the theatre with: adrenaline, excitement, eagerness. But the main thing I left with was this lesson: celebration of culture is not meant to serve as a distraction from the past but as tribute and as an indicator of progress and prosperity. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more to explore here. So much I can't put into words.
Want to see it?
$30 Student Rush
@ Signature Theatre
thru Dec. 18
What'd you experience?
Let us know in the comments below...