Seven Black men step onto the stage in the opening of Keenan Scott II’s “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” Over the course of the play, each will reveal a personality and history, but not a name, though later they will introduce themselves as Love, Happiness, Wisdom, Lust, Passion, Depression and Anger. Wearing different combinations of black, gray and red, they stand staring at a hulking billboard that reads “COLORED” in declarative black caps.
One of them then asks the question that begins the play: “Who is the Colored Man?”
It’s a question that Scott’s Broadway debut, which opened on Wednesday night at the John Golden Theater, doesn’t quite know how to answer. Incorporating slam poetry, prose and songs performed by its cast of seven, “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which first premiered in 2019 at Syracuse Stage in a co-production with Baltimore Center Stage, aspires to be a lyrical reckoning with Black life in America but only delivers a gussied-up string of straw-man lessons.
Set in present-day Brooklyn, amid the many symbols of gentrification (Citi Bike stations, Whole Foods and a Paris Baguette), “Thoughts” employs vignettes to check in with various characters, who are often grouped together. Though the show, directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, only runs for about 100 minutes, it takes us to a bus stop, a basketball court, a barbershop, a hospital and other locations, in a series of 18 snappy scenes.
The characters, ranging in age from late teens to mid-60s, have specific themes to illustrate: the elder Wisdom (Esau Pritchett) speaks about respect, history and ancestry; Anger (Tristan Mack Wilds) vents about the trappings of consumerism and the objectification of Black athletes; and Happiness (Bryan Terrell Clark) challenges notions about Black struggle and class.