Staging a revival of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf during the inaugural DC Black Theatre Festival was a smart move on festival director’s Glenn Alan’s part. Ntozake Shange’s powerfully lyrical poems depicting the loves, joys, betrayals, tragedies and the ultimate rising from the ashes of black women as told by seven characters has become a classic. The 1977 Broadway production was nominated for the Tony Award for best play.
Two performances of the theatre festival’s revival of For Colored Girls… sold out quickly, Alan said; an additional performance was added at the Paul Robeson Stage (otherwise known as the Mount Vernon Place UMC Theater). Despite a bit of a slow start at the beginning of the play, this highly anticipated production delivers an emotionally moving experience, thanks to director Charneice Fox’s passion and vision, along with authentic performances from some really talented actors.
The women of For Colored Girls… are known only by a color. Here, the women are wearing their colors in bracelets, necklaces, and sometimes the entire outfit ias the designated color. Lady in Blue (the wonderful Kim Bey Ayubu) reflects on a young woman’s rites of passages in the poem “dance to lady”, with the strongest memory being the background music of the events—the cool saxophone of jazz great Archie Shepp and the vibrant pulsing salsa rhythms of Willie Colon. Later, Ayubu muses on the shame of becoming pregnant and not wanting to face the harsh judgment the community, then later yelling at abortion clinic staff to “get those eyes offa me.”
Shange called her work a “choreopoem,” and all the women use dance to keep the flow of the poem on the right note. Lady in Orange (L. Angus Whinfield) is moving to salsa too, and Whinfield, in the poem “latent rapists” is convincing as she’s reeling after the attack, “being betrayed by men who know us/even by men we invite to our house for dinner.” Humiliated, and enraged, she tells us that “we gotta dance to keep from crying/we gotta dance to keep from dying.”
The Lady in Red (Maryam Fatima) by night is a beautiful, gloriously street-smart woman who entices the man she wants back to her house in the poem “one.” Fatima’s presence is captivating, and it’s easy to see how any man would stumble over himself to get to her. But despair comes as the dawn breaks, along with the familiar yet wrenching acknowledgment that this man will never give her want she really needs, and she is just “regular…ordinary.” As she sends the man home, her face is hardened with disappointment when she tells him “you got what you came for, didn’t you?” Lady in Red’s demeanor becomes one of “malice and livid indifference,” as she cries herself to sleep.
“somebody almost walked off wid alla mah stuff” is Lady in Green’s (K. McAllister-Barrett) hilarious and thought-provoking attack on all the forces that conspire to diminish the worth of a black woman. She doesn’t deliver the poem, McAllister-Barrett owns it, and she makes you want to make sure that nobody tries to walk off with her stuff.
There is a male presence in For Colored Girls…, and Beau Willie Brown (Jabari A.K. Holder) shows up with Lady in Red in the poem “a nite with beau willie brown,” as a menacing, crazy alcoholic who threatens to harm their two young children unless she agrees to marry him. The pair does a good job of bringing this poem—which seems more like a short story, to a spellbinding peak and then a tragic end.
The women form a circle around Lady in Red and lay their hands on her to ease her profound grief. “I found God in myself/and I loved her fiercely,” they declare to each other, sharing an emotional embrace and a camaraderie that transcends the pettiness of the everyday struggle.
Director Sharniece Fox had some good material to work with. And while this production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Is Enuf lacked the polish of a work staged by a major theatre, its fresh perspective and the genuine, powerful performances of the actors made this revival memorable.
DC Black Theatre Festival continues through Aug 8, 2010.
This is Carol Chastang’s first review for DC Theatre Scene.