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For Derek Lively, playing Miss Roj is a snap


He’s played such illustrious historical figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mountaintop) and Frederick Douglass (The Agitators). He was Walter Lee Younger (although has ceded that role to Elvis Mortley, who is working the other room in the “Last Mama on the Couch”) in A Raisin in the Sun. But in The Colored Museum, Derek Lively plays perhaps his most intriguing role, a finger snapping extraterrestrial drag queen who’s come to Earth to point out the flaws of a society in decline.

Bear in mind that George C. Wolfe wrote The Colored Museum in 1986. “If this place is the answer, then we’re asking all the wrong questions,” Miss Roj asked back then. With the impacts of climate change in evidence all around and large segments of the population completely untethered from facts, 1986 seems like the zenith of western civilization in comparison to the state of affairs prevailing today. We’ve quit asking questions because we no longer want to know the truth. But, oh snap, Miss Roj is a denizen of The Bottomless Pit and, after all, the depths of hell have no limits.

Snap, snap.

Now as then, Miss Roj functions within the realm of nihilism. And in that realm, she wants, needs and expects acceptance – acceptance from society at large and acceptance in the microcosm of The Bottomless Pit from the people who come to hear her comedy routine. But Miss Roj is a realist. She is tethered to the facts and, as a result, understands that she has been relegated to the fringes, nay, the dregs of society because of her race, sexuality and lifestyle.

Snap, snap, snap.

And so Roj hexes the society that marginalizes her, telling all who encounter her that we’ll never, ever again be able to hear the snap of fingers without thinking of her and the power she wields. That we’ll never, ever be able to hear the snap of anyone’s fingers without simultaneously hearing the crack of the whip that plantation owners used without compunction to keep their slaves in check.

Just like our criminal justice system and report of the policeman’s handgun operates today to keep people of color in their place … which is as second-class citizens, as front-line workers doomed to labor not in cotton fields, but in the teeth of a lethal pandemic without so much as the benefit of workplace protections that a simple jab would provide.

Snap, snap, snap, SNAP.

Yes, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface in “The Gospel According to Miss Roj.” For this reason, the part requires an actor with special skills. An actor like Derek Lively. An actor who can emote the volumes of attitude needed to disguise limitless vulnerability.  As Miss Roj, Lively exposes all of our fears and foibles.

Snap, snap, snap, snap, S N A P.

Lively’s performance in Colored Museum is not just outstanding. It would most assuredly draw a reverential nod from that other self-proclaimed extraterrestrial queen, the one, the only, the illustrious Alaska Thunderfuck of Drag Race fame.

Oh SNAP!!!

January 17, 2022.

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