For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

Written by Ntozake Shange

Directed by Arnold Beauchamp

Produced by Dr. Josephine English and the Paul Roberson Theatre

Reviewed by Jon Minners

After Reading This Article, Check Out The Interview With Velvet Ross

What is it like to be a Black woman living in the 20th Century with two strikes already against you in an unforgiving world?  Well, damned if I know.  Iím neither a woman nor Black, but I did receive some sort of idea of what it is like after attending the very powerful and emotional play For Colored Woman Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

I enjoyed this play on Saturday, July 23, as part of a night on the town with my girlfriend that ended up costing me less than $80.  Yes, I paid for her dinner, so donít ask.  See, the first great thing about this play is that it was an independent production at the Paul Robeson Theater on 40 Greene Avenue in Brooklyn with tickets only costing $20 each.  The wonderful thing about the Paul Robeson Theater is that they know quality performances and guests are treated to Broadway-type performances at very affordable prices.  More people should take advantage of these types of plays.  The actors put their all into the performances, which come off as more enjoyable, intimate and memorable for the guest. 

That is exactly how I felt walking into the Paul Robeson Theater for the first time.  It was very comfortable; almost like an enlarged living room.  I felt like we were right on stage with the performers and there is no environment like that; the feeling that the actors are actually talking to you.  That is the kind of feeling you want when you see a play like For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

The play is based on what is called a choreopoem, a visual form of poetry that has been translated into a dramatic piece of entertainment including prose, dance and music. The book of poetry was written by Ntozake Shange, a spiritual woman who, herself, contemplated suicide several times after separating from her husband.  After persevering and graduating cum laude in American studies in 1970 and entering the University of Southern California where she earned a masterís degree in American Studies in 1973, Shange began associating with poets, teachers, performers and black and white feminist writers who nurtured her talents.  This eventually led to the creation of For Colored Women Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf in 1975.  First premiering on Broadway 29 years ago, a new cast of players have done Shange proud with a powerful rendition of this inspiring and inspirational performance. 

The play features seven actresses who do not play conventional characters; but colors of the rainbow who discuss various stories that do not make up a uniformed plot, but create a single message about the strength of a woman.  Stories of love, betrayal, trauma, identity are all showcased in a mixture of performances that range from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-jerking sadness to absolute shock.  Through it all, a viewer can see a woman get by with the strength of her friends, her convictions and when they seem down and out; their faith in God

Natasha Caroline Lowery plays the Lady in Brown, who symbolizes all Black women making up the color of the rainbow.  She begins and ends the play with a captivating voice that immediately gets the guest ready for what is to come.  Her speech classes did her well.  She sold the performance and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  Even better was her monologue, later in the play, about a young girlís first love, that of the image of Haitiís liberator, Toussant LíOverture, she discovered in the library.  The uplifting discussion leads her to discover her true first love.  This was a fun story that brought a smile to my face. 

After a fun rendition of a little girlís playground game, featured in Woman Thou Art Loosed, Katrina Harper tells the first story as the Lady in Yellow.  Performing with a confidence that seems to mirror that of Golden Brooksí performances as Maya in Girlfriends, Harper entices the crowd with a discussion on her first sexual experience that is exciting with the right amount of attitude and humor to entertain everyone in attendance.  Candice A. Hassell plays the Lady in Orange.  A new performer, it showed sometimes, but something about her felt real.  She performed her part like a regular person without too much drama.  Her character seemed more accessible, although her role was not as powerful as the performers to follow; almost as if she was the exact opposite of the Lady in Red

Suzan Harvin played the Lady in Red.  Wow.  This woman nailed it.  She had to dig deep during her performances and it was hard to sit through them without being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness.  Her portrayal of a woman who has suffered abuse and the murder of her two children is so full of intensity that I dare even the coldest of hearts not to feel something from her words.  It was the last story in the play and the one with the strongest of messages.  Harvin did a brilliant job in bringing it home and basically tying the play together.  Faith will guide us through even the hardest of situations. 

Velvet Ross as the Lady in Purple is a great find.  Able to execute comedic, delightful and dramatic roles, Ross showcased her talents as one of the most well-rounded actresses in the group with some truly diverse performances.  Narrating the story of Sechita, Ross presents a lively depiction of a woman who overcomes the exploitation and degradation put on her by Southern white men.  She is strong and therefore will not allow herself to become the menís playthings, even as they throw coins between her thighs.  She rises above it all by thinking of herself as an Egyptian Goddess Ross does an excellent job bringing this story out through a series of well choreographed and powerful movements along with equally well-powerful words.  Besides being a great speaker and dancer, later on, guests get to hear one of the most powerful gospel voices ever.  I canít wait to follow Ross as she makes her next move in the world of acting and song.   

Ross continues with a performance men can even relate to.  The Lady in Purple discusses a relationship with a man and how she does everything for him and just wants to be loved for who she is.  Unfortunately, her man cheats on her with her best friends.  Obviously, he does the same to her friends, but rather than being destroyed, she moves on.  Her forgiveness strengthens her relationship with her friends and allows them to overcome the harm done to them by just one man in a sea of potential relationships.  As a man who went out with a girl who kissed one friend and went out with a best friend, I could relate and found this to be one of the more enjoyable stories in the play. 

My other favorite was a depiction by all the women on how men are always saying sorry for their wrongful deeds.  Each comment had me laughing hysterically, especially since I used many of those excuses.  I have used the excuse, ďI didnít know you cared about me so much,Ē and have also used ďIím not perfect.  If I was, there would be nothing to strive for.Ē  I used them for the right reasons; I swear, but hearing them mocked by the women on the stage made me realize just how lame those excuses sounded.  I learned something, too. 

Derika Abraham is the Lady in Blue and is by far the most exciting entertainer of the group and that is saying a lot, because everyone did such a great job.  She had me laughing, she made me sad, and she made me care.  Abraham ruled the stage with her strong performance as a rape victim, raped by a supposed friend that made me feel so uncomfortable in a positive way.  Rape is something strangers do, not friends, or at least that is what many women are led to believe.  Abraham made us feel this shame.  Her performance is one that I will soon not forget.  That scream; what a powerful scream Ė it made me angry.  She was just acting and yet, everything felt so real.  To think, Abraham had just discussed the fun of salsa and mambo dancing.  Hearing her discuss this love; so full of life and happiness, made it that much more difficult to see her deal with so much pain.  Abraham just needs the right break and her name will be just as unforgettable as her performance. 

The last performer I will discuss is Marlana Marie who played the Lady in Green.  Throughout the play, I didnít see this girl do anything, but listen to other peopleís stories and I kept saying to myself, when does this girl get to say something and then she performed and her performance was worth the wait.  somebody almost run off wit alla my stuff/& i didnt bring anythin but the kick & sway of it the perfect ass for my man & none of it is theirs this is mine/ ntozake 'her own things' / that's my name/now give me my stuff / i see ya hidin my laugh / & how I sit wif my legs open sometimes / to give my crotch some sunlight / & there goes my love my toes my chewed up finger nails / n****h / i want my stuff back / my rhythms & my voice / open my mouth / & let me talk ya outta / throwin my shit in the sewar.  I thought this was a great depiction of what the play was all about.  Her stuff is what makes her who she is and she had given it all to someone who didnít deserve it.  Her identity was stolen by someone who took what shouldnít have been his.  Having given my heart to someone who crushed it, I think this performance spoke the most to me. 

The ending also spoke volumes.  Everything they went through and yet despite it all, their faith keeps them positive about themselves and the future; an inspiration not just to Black women, but everyone in the room.  Thatís what made For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf a masterpiece for everyone to enjoy.  I may not be Black and I may not be a woman, but on that night I also took home a piece of the rainbow and I am better off for having done so. 

After Reading This Article, Check Out The Interview With Velvet Ross

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