The Enduring Significance Of for colored girls . . .
After 43 years, Ntozake Shange's focus on black women is still incredibly timely and relevant
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Mike Cherry (Jason), André Teamer (Brucie) and Edgar Miguel Sanchez (Chris) (above), and (below) Keith Kupferer (Stan), Tyla Abercrumbie and Kirsten Fitzgerald (Tracey).
In the production for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the cast reveals several personal stories at Court Theatre.
SINCE its first stage production on September 10, 1976, at the Booth Theatre in New York, Ntozake Shange’s Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has not lost any of the reverence, the power or the importance among women of color who live in a racist and sexist society.
Now at Court Theatre through April 14, Shange’s masterpiece, described by the writer as a “choreopoem,” brilliantly presents an emotional exploration of black women with a stirring combination of poetry, music and improvisational dance to highlight the ongoing challenges of oppression and disrespect that in 2019 still target females of color. In the presentation, a sisterhood of eight women reveals their individual stories, each of which is based in physical and psychological abuse, and includes sexism, racism, rape, subservience and male domination.
Interestingly, Shange’s music-drama has two sides––one side dealing with “the sisterhood’s” pain, abuse and suffering, and on the other side a level of resilience appears in the poetic monologues that reveal their inner strength, confidence and independence as they travel different but enlightening paths to self-discovery and self-worth. Director Seret Scott, a member of the original Broadway cast from 1976-78, brings invaluable insight and perspective when it comes to the energy and emotion in this cherished work that 40 years later still resonates with its message of hope, resilience and empowerment.
On the stage, the action takes place outside an apartment building, where the women, one after the other, step into the spotlight to reveal their raw and personal struggles. Each one is dressed in varying, vibrant colors that are representative of life and possibilities in differing degrees. While telling their stories, it’s clear that some audience members (based on their impromptu verbal outbursts) not only relate to the stage presentation but also recognize the women’s revelations as their own.
In Shange’s creation, the personal accounts in her “choreopoem” result in strong compassion for those who have been victimized in various ways. For example, the Lady in Brown (Patrese D. McClain) talks about life in 1955 and the pain and confusion of integration; the Lady in Yellow (Melanie Brezill) reveals the shame of losing her virginity in the back seat of an old Buick on graduation night; the Lady in Blue (Melissa Duprey) tells the story of loving to dance and wanting to be someone other than herself; the Lady in Orange (Alexis J. Roston) changes her thought pattern and comes to the realization that she needs love despite past relationship failures; the Lady in Green (Angelica Katie) just wants what’s hers after “somebody almost walked off with my stuff”; the Lady in Purple (Leah Casey, the production’s choreographer) laments about a man she wants to be with and experience sharing his love; and the Lady in Red (Anji White) shares her shame about debasing herself for the love of another. Rounding out the cast, Melody Angel, who provides the show’s music, is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who’s widely known for her own brand of blues-rock-soul.
Since its inception, for colored girls has not been without its detractors, particularly among men. All the women voice a feminist point of view. In Shange’s black feminist sentiment, she focuses only on the negative effects of black male abuse of black women. However, many critical men say the writer uses a wide brush of negativity that tarnishes many undeserving black men.
Criticism notwithstanding, for colored girls continues to be a vehicle of hope for women of color who have found strength in the struggles of “the sisterhood” in Shange’s outstanding artistic production. For some, it has completely changed their lives, inspiring them to embrace a new resolve, one in which they vow to never again back down, give up or give in.
For more information and tickets, go to www.courttheatre.org.
Photography by Michael Brosilow
Cast members Anjelica Katie, Leah Casey and Melanie Brezill comfort one another while (below) "Lady in Orange" Alexis J. Roston and "Lady in Blue" Melissa Duprey dance.