Saturday, March 3, 2012

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow in Enuf by Ntozake Shange

By Joe Straw

“The lady in blue exits stage left volm.”   “Soft deep music is heard, voices calling Sechita come from the wings and volms.” “The lady in green enters from the right volm.

It’s probably best to ignore the stage directions and make the play completely organic from the ground up.  Stage directions in plays can be a bit of a nuisance but these are stage directions with a term I am not familiar with, “volm”. This is driving me absolutely mad and I will not continue until I find the results.  Let’s see, looking up “volm” on Google, Urban Dictionary, and I get nothing.  

And then “Vomitory: An auditorium entrance or exit up through banked seating from below.  Often abbreviated to Vom.  The word dates back to Roman times, and was an architectural feature of coliseums, etc.” Thank you!

Volm is probably a different spelling of the same word or a spelling from another language.  Natheless, now it is possible to go on with life, having the benefit of some extra curricular learning activity.

Dorrie Braun & The Lyric Theatre Foundation present For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow in Enuf by Ntozake Shange and directed by JC Gafford through March 17, 2012 is an extremely enjoyable production, with a wonderful cast, telling us heartbreaking stories.

When you see someone who has fallen, the simplest thing to do is to reach out and offer that person a gentle hand. And if, amid the chaos of daily life, you are the fallen, take that hand of kindness and make a connection.

“For Colored Girls…” is a play of 21 poems put together to form a cohesive anthology of women in various stages of happiness and/or major distress. It is a reaching out and laying of the hands. This beautiful ménage of poetry is definitely for colored girls who have thoughts of ending it all. And it can be said today just as it was said back in Shange’s play of 1970’s that you should not despair, “it just gets better.”   

But this production of about twenty beautiful poems is not without fault, minor adjustments of which I will mention later.

“dark phrases of womanhood of never havin been a girl” – lady in brown

The lady in brown, (Nia Witts), laments being born a woman and not having a voice or truly knowing the “infinite beauty” of her own voice.  She wants to be nurtured and handled warmly. She is a woman from Chicago.

“it was graduation nite & i waz the only virgin in the crowd” – lady in yellow

Oh, oh!  You know where this is going. The lady in yellow (Mystie Galloway) takes us on her journey of sexual awakening outside Detroit, Michigan. Her carriage, “deep dark Buick”, awaits her.  She is the sleeping beauty in a factory town in the back seat with her cousins “bobby mills martin jerome & sammy yates eddie jones & randi”.  It is the night and she has to dance. It was innocent fun that she had, speaks about, but not without some turmoil within the group that makes up the night of her carnal awakening.

“when I was sixteen i ran off to the south Bronx
cuz i was gonna meet up with willie colon & dance all the time” – lady in blue

The lady in blue (Yvette Saunders) has a slight identity issue.  It seems that her father wasn’t too sure he was Puerto Rican but there were these hints of Spanish coming from him and a reason to for her to dance “mambo, bomba, merengue”.  Willie Colon was a no-show that night and the black portion of her mixed race self came out in full glory.  But no matter, she loves to dance, and it is that night when she discovers the beat of another to move her hips to.

“i have loved you assiduously for 8 months 2 wks & a day” – lady in red

The lady in red (Darlene Bel Grayson) is adamant about ending the affair she is having. But without the flair of a two-word finality “It’s over” often proclaimed by a male counterpart, she tells this Baltimore native of the sacrifices she has made for him before she lets the hammer drop.

“a friend is hard to press charges against” – lady in blue

The poetry on the dance floor becomes a vignette about rape.

“women relinquish all personal rights in the presence of a man who apparently cd be considered a rapist” – lady in red

Culminating in a story about an abortion. 

Sechita, the Egyptian goddess of creativity and filth, is a homemade goddess and the figment of the imagination of the lady in purple (Michelle Campbell). Sechita is an aging mulatto woman with a lot of fight in her.  She is an older woman who remembers the glorious times of a quadroon ball only to find something other than what she remembered.  She puts herself together in front of a broken mirror, touching up the “gin stained red garters” but it seems she’s in the wrong place, at the wrong time, trying to buy a place not worth her time in an arena of self doubt.

“TOUSSAINT was a blk man a negro like my mama say
 who refused to be a slave
& he spoke french
& didnt low no white man to tell him nothin” – lady in brown

The lady in brown (Nia Witts) discovered Toussaint L’Ouverture in the adult reading section of her St Louis library in 1955.  At the age of eight, she carries on an affair of sorts with her imaginary friend Toussaint and runs away to Haiti. 

And again the lady in red got what she was after and at 4:30 am she tells the man who won’t get out of her bed in no uncertain terms that he has got to go.

“I usedta live in the world
now i live in harlem & my universe is six
blocks” – lady in blue

The lady in blue (Yvette Saunders) has become a victim of poverty.  Forced to live in the only place she can afford, Harlem in the 1960’s. She lives in a place of fifth, poverty, and despair.  For the six blocks she travels, she fears the destitute, throwing up a wall for self- preservation, hoping one day it will get better.  

I believe twenty poems can be a play.  It has worked in the past.  It can work today.  This production has some very fine actors doing their “stuff”.  The actors are all sizes and shapes and there is some fascinating work going on with some wonderful dances choreographed by Fernando Christopher.

Darlene Bel Grayson as the lady in red was amazing. She has a smile that lights up a room and was not intimidated to give the characters that extra oomph needed to get her to the end of the rainbow. She tells the story of Beau Willie with heartfelt compassion and this performance is a performance to watch.

Ciji Michelle Campbell as the lady in purple has some very nice moments but most remembered as the woman that had an abortion.  It is a decision that weighs on her heavily and certainly something one would think about when considering suicide.

Mystie Galloway as the lady in yellow did a nice job as the Detroit girl who loses her virginity. It is a coming of age story about a girl slightly confused about the ways of life, but nevertheless finding life in the back of a Buick.  Suggesting a slight adjustment, Galloway needs to find the objective of her character in the context of the play.  This is somewhat tricky when performing lines of poetry.  Still this is a marvelous performance.

Monica P. Quinn as the lady of orange is a bit of an optimist.  She wants to sing and dance but all the optimism is thrown out the window by the violence of a male counterpart. She is the character that moves to Harlem and views the 6 blocks of cruelty she lives and breaths as a permanent situation.  This was a very nice job.

Yvette Saunders as the lady of blue was fantastic.  She has the sultry charm of a Puerto Rican and the controlling might of a woman in a hard spot.  It was just a terrific performance and certainly one to plop your money down to go see.

Samiyah Swann as the lady in green was enchanting in the poem “somebody walked off wid alla my stuff”.  She was very clever and very funny and has an easy manner on stage. It was a terrific performance that just needed her objective to compliment the through line of the play.   

Nia Witts as the lady in brown has a very nice look to her.  She is tall and angular and has a very nice presence on stage, unique and engrossing at the same time. One particularly liked the Toussaint story. I’m not sure I got the nurse characterization because it didn’t go anywhere.  Still, she was wonderful to watch.

There are a lot of nice things in JC Gafford’s direction, the actors seemed confortable in their roles but missing is the overriding-through line of the play.  It is the intangible object the gives meaning to the play: For colored Girls who have considered suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf. One has to believe, in its simplest form, this play is for women of color who have considered suicide.  The narrative is slightly confusing when not executed with a director’s strong imaginative choice for the narrative. A clear purpose will help the actors bring life to the characters. And hopefully the finding of the narrative choice will help move this play toward that objective.  

One believes that the characters on stage have gotten to the point of considering suicide whether real, imagined, or contemplated.  Certainly there is enough drama and their conflict is real, humorous, and dangerous but I think we need to see them come to that point on stage so that the ending makes sense.

Also each actor is unique but the dialogue, written poetically, must be given the regional dialect necessary to show the characters as different and to let the audience know we are back to a character in a different place. 

It took me a long time to see Ntozake Shange’s play.  The words are colorful, beautiful, and hurt in ways that tears at the human psyche. It is 1960’s life broken down in its simplest constructive form.  This was the time when “colored girls” was the polite and politically correct term. The term still seems derogatory.  Referring to women of color seems a better fit for all races.

Josh Shaw, the Set Designer, did a fantastic job giving us a city street scene. Krystle Smith was the lighting designer but would have loved to have seen a little more of Derf Reklaw the musician giving us some great music.  Hunter Wells’ costumes were fantastic. Fernando Christopher choreography was very nice and worked well with the presentation.

One cannot view this play without being uplifted in some form or another. These women are battered and then they look up for someone, anyone, to give them that helping hand.  

Help is out there and finding help can be as easy as you want to make it to be or as hard as you are determined it will be.  Certainly, if you are looking for answers, “Colored Girls” might be the first step, the helping hand.  

Run to see this production.


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