Story: Seven women, identified only by the singular color of their clothing, appear on stage in a ‘choreopoem’ that combines dance with poetry in 20 vignettes describing various experiences of African-American women.
Highlights: Written in 1975 by Ntozake Shange, this one-act theater piece broke new ground in a form known as a ‘choreopoem,’ in which Shange merged dance with poetry recitations. Her effort was awarded an Obie Award for its off-Broadway production in 1976 prior to a move to Broadway later that year, where it garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Play and ran for nearly 750 performances.
The Black Rep staged a presentation of the work more than 20 years ago, and now reprises that effort with two of its stars from that production as well as five younger women. It’s a tight, cohesive rendition under Black Rep founder and producing director Ron Himes’ deliberate direction that allows each of the seven talented entertainers to showcase her versatility.
Other Info: In 90 minutes Shange introduces her audience to situations that vary from broad comedy to harrowing drama. There’s a light-hearted feature called ‘Toussaint,’ in which a little girl portrayed by the Lady in Brown (Patrese McClain) recounts her joy at being introduced through books to the legendary, 18th century Haitian revolutionary, Toussaint L’Ouverture, whom she adopts as her imaginary playmate. McClain’s economic use of childlike gestures and expressions straightforwardly convey a child’s wonder.
The Lady in Green (Andrea Purnell) gives a humorous riff on her life in the amusing piece, ‘Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid Alla My Stuff,’ while the aptly dressed Lady in Blue (Marsha Cann) painfully recalls her ‘Abortion Cycle.’
Chelsea Draper as the Lady in Yellow embodies all of the exuberance and excitement of a young woman recalling ‘Graduation Nite,’ which contrasts starkly with the horrific tale of ‘A Nite with Beau Willie Brown’ recited with increasing terror by Linda Kennedy as the Lady in Red describes a young mother and her children bullied by her relentless, obsessive lover.
Evann De-Bose as the fun-loving Lady in Orange and Phyllis Yvonne Stickney as the feisty Lady in Purple contribute their own clever bits throughout the show.
The players perform on set designer Jim Burwinkel’s bare stage, which he shrewdly lights to accentuate a solo performance or a collective dance effort. Marissa Perry’s colorful costume design puts the actresses in a variety of free-flowing ensembles that allow for graceful dancing to Jeff Anderson’s pulsating, rhythmic background music.
For Colored Girls… does show a bit of age here and there, but generally it’s a polished piece of art and an observant tribute to African-American feminism.
Play: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf
Company: The Black Rep
Venue: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, Lindell at DeBaliviere
Dates: February 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, March 1, 2
Tickets: $35-$45; contact 534-3810 or theblackrep.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Stewart Goldstein