For Colored Girls
At the Court Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago-In the mid 1970’s, Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” exploded on the American theater scene, giving a powerful and original voice to the situation of women of color in the United States. The show became an immediate artistic and social classic. The show hasn’t been revived much in recent years, though the show’s message has been continued and expanded by the MeToo movement of the new millennium.
The Court Theatre is reviving “Colored Girls” for a too brief run, displaying again what caused so much excitement and discussion nearly 40 years ago. The show retains its one-of-a-kind artistic brilliance and, unfortunately, its searing exploration of what it was to exist in a racist and sexist society remains relevant.
Shange, who died last October, called her work a “choreopoem.”a blend of storytelling, poetry, monologues and dialogues, music, and dance. The show is performed over 90 minutes without an intermission, by an all-female cast identified only by the color of their costumes—Lady in Yellow, Lady in Purple, Lady in Blue, Lady in Green, Lady in Brown, Lady in Orange, and Lady in Red. The original production has seven actresses. The Court staging adds an eighth, simply called Lyric, who contributes on-stage guitar and percussion accompaniment plus a powerful singing voice and impassioned acting.
The ensemble performs individually and in various combinations. They don’t represent specific character types, moving fluently through a rainbow of emotional colorations, from comedy to poignancy to anger, despair, and tragedy. Many of Shange’s themes cluster around sex—loss of virginity, rape, abortion, and pregnancy. The scenes touch on domestic violence (men take a beating from the outraged and victimized women). The women often reach out for love and sympathy to the men in their lives, who reject their yearnings with brutality. Parenthetically, I wonder about the reaction to “Colored Girls” among men of color was when the show first appeared.
The eight performers all get their spotlight turns and they are all superb. Every cast member can sing, dance, and especially act, at home in Shange’s prose as well as her verse style. They have 20 stories to tell, and spectators would profit from reading Shange’s text before attending a performance, just to accustom themselves to the topical and emotional shifts in the language. The script has not been updated from its 1970’s original, for example retaining references to avant garde jazz musicians Archie Shepp and Oliver Lake, not much heard of today.
In alphabetical order, they are Melanie Brezill (Yellow), Leah Casey (also the choreographer, Purple), Melissa DuPrey (Blue), Angelica Katie (Green), Patience McClain (Brown), Alexis Roston (Orange), and AnJi White (Red). White delivers the major’s major set piece, a long and horrifying monologue near the end of the evening about a confrontation between a woman and a former boyfriend that leads to the violent death of her two young children. The show then ends with the entire ensemble gathered together in a solemn expression of solidarity and resilience.
“Colored Girls” is directed by Seret Scott, who was a member of the original company. Scott, with a sure but invisible hand, orchestrates the performances so they seem to come naturally and inevitably from the creativity and passion of the playwright.
The Court set, designed by Courtney O’Neill, consists of a permanent arrangement of Romanesque arches and doorways at the rear of the stage that resemble the ruins of a medieval church. It’s a curious visual choice but the set allows the performers to enter and exit fluidly. Each performer wears a single color dress throughout the evening, all designed by Samantha C. Jones. Paul Toben designed the lighting and Andre Pluess the sound.
There isn’t a great deal of dancing in the production, but what there is touches a lot of choreographic bases, from modern dance to Soul Train-style rock ‘n’ roll. The music ranges from nursery rhymes and traditional spirituals to original material composed by Melody Angel.
The audience was with the ensemble all the way on opening night, and spectator acceptance and enthusiasm surely will continue throughout the run. The meld of fine performance and staging with Shange’s writing and concept are irresistible. The commitment of the cast was visible at the curtain call, with several of the performers in tears. The show obviously meant much to them personally as well as artistically. A most rewarding evening for everyone in the theater.
The show gets a rating.
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” runs through April 14 at the Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis Avenue. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $74. Call 773 753 4472 or visit www.CourtTheatre.org.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. March 2019
Like Dan on Facebook. Become a Friend!!!
Follow Dan on Twitter:
Want to read more reviews? Go to TheaterinChicago