Complex story of 'For Colored Girls...' is enjoyable
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 7:44 p.m.
What's old is new again. Reading "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" for the first time, it was interesting to see the playwright characterize her work as a "Choreopoem." This is something different, I thought, but on further reflection realized that the form of the play, although not something seen often these days, is certainly not a new form of theater. The Greeks were doing it a few thousand years ago: recitals instead of dialogue backed up with a chorus and including dancing.
"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf"
The show is currently appearing on two stages in Gainesville. At the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, where I saw it last Thursday the "Colored Girls," are seven women who recite and dance during the course of the evening. They are not given names, but are assigned colors. Since they are also African-American, the theme works on more than one level.
"For Colored Girls..." is one of the great success stories of modern theater. Ntozake Shange put together a collection of her poems in the early '70s and, together with a small group of women, started performing them in bars and other un-illustrious haunts in the San Francisco Bay Area. The show caught on and made it to Broadway in 1976.
The show has remained vital because it tells it like it was and still is. The lives these women celebrate are full of pain, betrayal, loss and unhappiness, but not self-pity. Director Kevin Mack in a pre-show address tells the audience that this work is the signature piece of theater for African-American women; a source of countless audition pieces. He recognizes the importance of this work and his careful direction has brought us a show with complex material that is enjoyable due to the intense but controlled feeling imparted by his excellent cast.
The show is opened by the Lady in Brown (DeAnna Wright) who introduces the play in free verse:
"sing a black girl's song/sing her sighs/sing the song of her possibilities/sing a righteous gospel/let her be born/let her be born/& handled warmly."
Well, she doesn't get much warm handling as things progress. The Lady in Yellow (Cynthia Peterson) follows with a tale of graduation night when the girl is still virginal and full of fun.
The Lady in Blue (Evelyn Webster) follows with a peppery, musically nuanced piece that involves dancing, actual and figurative.
The Lady in Red (Constance Fields) is up next with the first taste of the conflict facing the girl in her experiences with men:
"Without any assistance or guidance from you/i have loved you assiduously for eight months two weeks & a day/i have been stood up four times/i want you to know/this waz an experiment/to see if i was capable of debasing my self for the love of another."
This idea is carried on by the Lady in Orange (Cynthia Williams) who introduces the dance motif once more and the others echo it in their commentary:
"We gotta dance to keep from cryin/we gotta dance to keep from dyin."
The group proceeds to talk about rape and how the woman catches the blame and about the repercussions.
To lighten things, the Lady in Purple (Linda Harris) tells in free form the story of an enigmatic woman named Sechita and the Lady in Brown follows that with a warm story about a young lady and her experiences with the two Toussaints.
The mood darkens again with stories of life in Harlem, with betrayal of friends, the Lady in Green's (Aisha McDonald) description of her nearly lost of her identity and the show culminates with the shocking and brutal story, "a nite with beau willie brown," delivered by the Lady in Red.
Although the poems are primarily delivered as solo pieces, primarily, the group reinforces the emotions expressed by the individual speakers, or contributes thoughts that compliment or fill out the theme of the particular poem. The cast works well as an ensemble. Each person gets an equal opportunity to show her ability as a presenter and all do an excellent job with the difficult material that constitutes Shange's work.
Choreography is by Howard Louis Anderson II and is very free in keeping with the spoken material. The actresses are allowed to express themselves in the movement of their bodies. Cassandra W. Mack is the costume designer and has done a marvelous job in dressing the cast in colors befitting their characters. Lighting design by Gregory B. Green creates drama where appropriate and the sound design by Adrian D. Curtis provides music cues that match the mood and dance elements.
The Lady in Brown explains the play best in her final speech: "& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows."
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