BWW Review: FOR COLORED BOYZ in Houston
Ntozake Shange's seminal work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When Rainbow Is Enuf introduced the genre of the choreopoem to mainstream audiences. The choreopoem is a collection of short narrative epithets, poems, songs and dances to evoke a visceral and emotional responses from its viewers. The work is meant to pay homage to dramatic forms originated from Africa and Greece, in which the performance style is loosely structured and highly evocative.
Bryan-Keyth Wilson's original work, For Colored Boyz On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown/When Freedom Ain't Enuff was seven years in the making, and covers a wide array of topics that include toxic masculinity, homophobia, disenfranchisement, church hurt, xenophobia, drag culture, police brutality, dating in the millennial age and more. It jumps from era to era, sometimes mirroring experiences from the past with recent events in order to highlight the repetitive nature of the American experience.
The tediously crafted poetry, performed with verve by a committed cast of six African-American men, lives and breathes in a way that resonates with audience members long after the show is over. The words given to us find the delicate balance of depth and poignancy without being sentimental or oversimplified. This is a show that cuts deep with its use of reason then uses rhyme as a balm for healing.
Each of the six actors is only labeled by the color shirt they wear, which provides a host of characters in line with the mood the color elicits. For example, Man in Blue is moody and reflective as he explains his interest in drag performance,
"All the world's a stage No Matter your age Doctor/Lawyer/Teacher You put on titles and roles That's how our world goes You might judge and point with glee But you're a drag queen like me"
- Man in Blue
The actors presented a host of characters that showcased their strength as performers. Marvin Young (Man In Black) provided a wealth of charm and gravitas to his characters, while Jeremiah C. Gray (Man in Blue) showcased broad strokes of impeccable comedic timing, Kristopher Adams as (Man in Brown) captivated the audiences each time he articulately delivered the heavier pieces of the show with vulnerability. Amir Diamond's Man in Green and Greg Malonson II's Man in Red rounded the cast with characters that wore their heart on their sleeve and wanted to make a change. The chemistry between the actors and shared physical vocabulary made the experience both entertaining and unique. Musical interludes and powerful modern dance performed by cast members also help to move the pieces along and create a flow to the evening's proceedings.
A highlight of the evening was Man in Red's poem about Colin Kapernick's choice to kneel during the National Anthem that mirrored a famous passage from Hamlet,
"To kneel - to Stand- To Stand- perchance the opportunity to stand for a Cause: Ay, there's the rub! For in standing it is an act of valor and patriotism"
- Man in Red
By drawing a comparison of the sacrifice of fame within Black experience to the pondering of death within the most famous speech in literary history, Wilson's work boldly carves its own space within the theatrical canon just as its female-focused predecessor.
Viewing this work as an African-American man, I felt represented in a way that I had not seen onstage in a very long time. The production, which plans to various cities such as Austin, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore and Chicago this summer, is a transcendent experience that I expect will live a long life and continue to uplift Shange's legacy for generations to come.
For tickets and information about this production visit: 4coloredboyz.com.