Madea Goes To Town

Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry's Madea is the relative who tells it like it is -- or how it ought to be. "She has taken on a life of her own," Perry says. (Erik S. Lesser for The Washington Post)
By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 2006

Scene 1: Madea, a huge grandmother, bounces onto the stage, a tempest towering over other actors, instantly stealing the scene, the star of her own show.

In this play, Madea wears black cat-eye glasses, a pink housedress falling loosely over her huge breasts. She is in orthopedic hose, a gray wig, gigantic feet stuffed in fluffy tiger-print bedroom slippers, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, which is painted with a touch of pink. Just enough to suggest she was once a stripper. The name was Delicious and that was a long time ago but she can still "drop it like it's hot," she says with a cackle.

Madea, the character created and performed by rags-to-riches playwright, composer and movie director Tyler Perry, is bigger than life, big enough to lean on, with her black purse, loaded with four pistols ready to defend her honor and the honor of any family member she thinks is being wronged.

Pow! She spews advice and wisdom, caring not a damn who gets in the way of the words. "I am six feet tall, 68 years old, 392 pounds. I can say whatever I want to say. And ain't nobody going to stop me. . . . This is my house, I can say anythink. I can say anythink I want to say in my house."

From this fictional house on theater stages -- and in a movie set to be released today, "Madea's Family Reunion," plus the book "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings" due out in April -- Madea has taken on a life of her own. Emerging fully formed from the painful dust of Perry's childhood to speak to a whole generation of audiences.

Long before Madea made it to Hollywood, she traveled across the country, performing stage plays that reached underground and across class and tapped into the vein of pain pumping through black communities. Starring in morality tales, often about molestation, abuse, cheating husbands, cheating wives, mothers in jail, crack children producing crack babies, grandmothers raising grandchildren whose mothers went off and left them, abandoned children left to make sense of mothers in jail, daddies unknown.

Part gospel concert, part church, part stand-up comedy, part old school R&B jam sessions, part collective counseling, the plays often had happy endings in which the good get their reward and the evil get their due and the beautiful single black woman rides off into the sunset with a beautiful, good black man. The plays are ultimately about forgiveness.

In the play "Madea Goes to Jail," which came to Constitution Hall in January, Madea sinks on a sofa in her living room, and from that sofa-throne issues her edicts:

Dating and having sex will get you dinner and a movie, but holding out will get you diamonds and furs and Cadillacs and proposals. A man likes challenges. . . . You should consider yourself Mount Everest. Do you know how many men died trying to get to the top of Mount Everest? Keep the flags off of you!

Different scene, different play.

Actress: How can you tell when a man is cheating on you?

Madea: You think your man's cheating?

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