Forty-one years after Broadway said goodbye after 742 thrilling performances to its first (and last) choreopoem, and a year after its author and original performer died at the age of 70, seven women are bringing the colors of the rainbow back to a stage of the Public Theater through dance and song and nursery rhymes, through collective storytelling and individual tales ugly or sweet about the lives of women of color, delivered in verse.
Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking work of theater signals something unique from its very title: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.” If the poetic language may sometimes be too dense and quick for full comprehension, the rhythm always gets you through. The production is offered like a gift by an all-female cast and crew.
There are a few evident updates, both in the script and the production. The seven ladies, each dressed in a different color of the rainbow, are not all African-American, and The Lady in Purple (Alexandria Wailes, a veteran of Deaf West’s Broadway productions of Spring Awakening and Big River) speaks in American Sign Language
But, unlike other works from the consciousness-raising 1970s, the core of “For Colored Girls” feels as if it could have been put together today, as each colorful lady gets her moment center stage.
The Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) tells a charming story of her infatuation at age seven with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the hero of Haiti,
who refused to be a slave
& he spoke french
didnt low no white man to tell him nothing
until she meets a boy her age named Toussaint Jones, who struck her as just as heroic, except he also was right there, spoke English and ate apples
The Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen) paints a bleak picture of her life in Harlem, “my universe of six blocks.” The Lady in Yellow (Adrienne C. Moore, who portrayed Black Cindy in Orange is the New Black) tells a rip-roaring tale of the night of her high school graduation – “cosmetology secretarial pre-college autoshop & business all us movin from mama to what ever waz out there” – ending with her joyfully losing her virginity in a Buick. The Lady in Red (Jayme Lawson) offers numerical evidence of her degradation in the face of an unreciprocated love:
“without any assistance or guidance from you
i have loved you assiduously for 8 months 2 wks & a day i have been stood up four times
i’ve left 7 packages on yr doorstep
forty poems 2 plants & 3 handmade notecards i left
town so i cd send to you.”
But she recovers her dignity at the end, by declaring her infatuation at an end:
“this note is attached to a plant
i’ve been waterin since the day i met you you may water it
yr damn self.”
The group storytelling varies radically in tone. There is a group portrait of a rapist, and a group riff imitating the sundry and insincere ways that men apologize. The show ends with a group chant:
i found god in myself & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf
Written by Ntozake Shange, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, choreography by Camille A. Brown.
Scenic design by Myung Hee Cho, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Megumi Katayama, original music by Martha Redbone, director of American Sign Language Onudeah Nicolarakis
Cast: Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple), and D. Woods (Understudy).
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
For Colored Girls is on stage through December 1, 2019