The wackiest of many outlandish moments in Exhibit #9, Tracey Wilson’s cacophonous comedy, is the spectacle of Margaret Johnson, a young black bank executive, introducing her new “boyfriend,” an inflatable doll, to her stunned middle-class family. Because most eligible “brothers” her age are dead, HIV-positive, or under lockdown in the state pen, she is forced to make a spectacle of straddling the doll, hoping to draw carnal knowledge from its rubber shell. It’s not the only problem in the Johnson family, which, numb with pride over eldest son Eddie’s appointment as secretary of health, is about to plunge headfirst into the scandal culture that defines America in the late ’90s.
Exhibit #9 is inspired by the antic self-parody of George Wolfe’s Colored Museum, but it comes with a more accelerated pace, a heightened aggression, and a skankier sexuality. Wilson is a maniacally intelligent playwright, mixing intensely cynical insights about race and sex with the raucous and almost naive cornpone humor that makes black regional theater so down-home. One sequence manages to overlap the universes of the pickaninny, the drag queen, and the future of American theater. But because Wilson’s range is so ambitious, there are times that Exhibit #9‘s world needs to be reined in— spoof caricatures like Faggus Blackus and Auntus Jemimus are introduced humorously early on, then left without much to do. And the drama behind the family’s secret scandal sometimes gets lost in all the clowning. The acting, though, is first-rate, and there’s no doubt that Wilson succeeds in conveying the deep complexity of contemporary blackness.
Paul Schmidt Memorial
A memorial service celebrating the life and work of translator-poet Paul Schmidt will be held Tuesday, April 13, at 4 in the Newman Theater, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street.