BWW REVIEW: Ntozake Shange's Groundbreaking FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF Returns To The Public
Back in 1976, when Ntozake Shange's ravishingly written celebration of survival, FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENOUGH, transferred from The Public Theater to The Booth, if would have been a safe bet to say that Broadway had seen nothing like it before.
To say that Broadway hasn't seen anything like it since is a sure thing.
A year after the playwright's passing at age 70, Shange's groundbreaking choreopoem, a collection of storytelling verse pieces weaved together through music and movement, returns to The Public in director Leah C. Gardiner and choreographer Camille A, Brown's vibrant and uplifting production.
"somebody / anybody / sing a black girl's song," insists the Lady in Brown during the prologue, "dark phrases."
"...she's been dead so long / closed in silence so long / she doesn't know the sound / of her own voice / her infinite beauty..."
"...sing her sighs / sing the song of her possibilities / sing a righteous gospel / let her be born / let her be born / & handled warmly."
Played by Celia Chevalier, Lady in Brown is the only one not dressed in a rainbow color. She announces herself as being "outside strasbourg, France." She is accompanied by Adrienne C. Moore's Lady in Yellow (outside nashville), Jayme Lawson's Lady in Red (outside washington d.c.), Sasha Allen's Lady in Blue (outside harlem), Danaya Esperanza's Lady in Orange (outside la habana, cuba), Okwui Okpokwasili's Lady in Green (outside brooklyn) and deaf actor Alexandria Wailes, who, as Lady in Purple, signs that she's outside newark, delaware.
Designer Toni-Leslie James' single-color dresses are each imprinted multiple times with black images taken from photographs submitted from each cast member of their most beloved female relative, as a way to, as James puts it, "pay personal homage to their ancestors on stage."
Set designer Myung Hee Cho places rows of seating onstage, helping to create a sense of community as each performer not only acknowledges her actor colleagues, but those who have come to witness their proclamations of pain and rejoicing, involving stories of youthful adventures, self-realization and maneuvering through the sexism and racism that creates the images others see in them.
"i usedta live in the world / then i moved to HARLEM / & my universe is now six blocks," laments Allen as she recalls how she used to take walks in the Pacific, but now "what waters i have here sit stagnant / circlin ol men's bodies / shit & broken lil whiskey bottles..."
"without any assistance or guidance from you," writes Lawson to an unappreciative lover, "i have loved you assiduously for 8 months 2 wks & a day."
"charmin charmin / but you are of no assistance," she notes in a businesslike breakup letter.
A piece called "latent rapist" may have been more of a shocker back in the mid-70s, describing the extra difficulty of pressing charges against a friend who rapes you.
"if you know him / you must have wanted it" and "a misunderstanding" are among the words of disbelief spoken by those who may insist that a rapist must be a deranged stranger and not one of "these men friends of ours / who smile nice / stay employed / and take us out to dinner."
This reviewer's guest, a newcomer to the piece who can relate to the details presented in Shange's words more acutely, seemed thrilled to see so many facets of women like her represented, but one of the beautiful aspects of FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENOUGH is that its theme of how people build communities through the bonds created by common challenges and common joys is a universal part of human nature.