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'COLORED MUSEUM' PARODY IS ENERGETIC, OVERACTED

If you're looking for "Amistad," look somewhere else. George Wolfe's caustic satire, "The Colored Museum," is a parody that parks right on its subject and spits up a series of social grotesques that Americans, including blacks, have used to define the African-American psyche.

Wolfe sets up the play as a tour of a nightmarish museum that in 11 sketches exhibits racial stereotypes that have evolved into recognizable contemporary personas.

The Ujima repertory production now on-stage at Theatreloft usually serves Wolfe's purpose well, but it is an uneven production of an uneven play and brings out some of the best and worst of Ujima.

Under directors Lorna C. Hill and Philip Knoerzer, the show is zippy, colorful, wildly creepy and energetic. The acting, however, is at times annoyingly over-the-top and also often much too loud. Since as written each sketch is too long for its joke, the level of irritation is at times quite aggravating. Wolfe's script is already anything but subtle and doesn't require such broad exposition.

Although the playwright himself often doesn't know when to quit, several characters -- "Miss Pat" (Catherine E. Horton), "The Woman" (Horton), "Lady in Plaid" (Horton) and Hill's centerpiece dive-turn as La La Lamazing Grace do him one worse by being overacted and way too much in the audience's face.

As "Flo'rance," Hugh Davis is poorly directed. His turn as a sister hyper-invested with The Spirit of God was so unfocused that I thought he was going to evaporate. The same lack of direction produced a lack of distinct purpose in "Symbiosis," a sketch in which a man trades his black identity for economic success.

On the other hand, in all of her roles, Beverly Dove maintains a fine balance, skirting the comedic edge but never diving over it. She and Dwight Simpson are very good in "The Last Mama on the Couch Play," a takeoff on black kitchen-sink dramas. Since the character Simpson plays was often hysterically overwritten in the original dramas, he gets away with more than he should.

Nas I. Afi and Hugh Davis as models in "Ebony" magazine and Larry S. Sayres as a high-camp "Snap Queen" also are funny, although as written, the rageful aspect of Sayres' character can be nothing but a rant. Junie Robinson does well in an eerie turn as a zombie soldier in a role that is also not carefully crafted by Wolfe to move inexorably to its final moment.

RATING: *** stars

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