by Margret Echeverria
Thoughts of suicide are not okay, common wisdom tells us. Once we learn that, many of us will shut up about it because the last thing we want are people in positions of authority trying to “help.” When you are a woman and colored, authoritarians dictate what is best for you while ignorant of who and what you are. In For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange presents us with a sacred space of sisterhood where these hidden stories are delivered through poetry and dance showing us how some sisters ultimately chose pleasurable survival despite assignation of second class citizen statuses. No one asks, Are you okay? because these women are beyond platitudes. They are honest, passionate expressions of joy won through living and learning their pain over and over again.
The show opens with a quasar projection on the back wall and a voice asking us to imagine all the “lil colored girls . . . just like you” as the performers come dancing in powerful bodies landing softly. Often the most beautiful choreography can be diluted by the distraction of feet thumping over a hollow stage. Not here, thanks to the artistry of Camile A Brown . Lady in Brown (Tendayi Kuumba) speaks poetry as she invokes a celebration. When the moves synchronize, exaltation spreads among all of the women and the audience settles in with laughter unaware of the wallops to come. A collective chronological narrative begins in young adulthood as Lady in Yellow (D. Woods) describes the promise of graduation night when a girl thinks she knows everything and has it all together. Woods fills the air with her sensuality, stays just barely out of trouble with boys and the law and shamelessly expresses sexuality. Her skin glistens just as Lady in Blue (Stacey Sargeant) conjures more icky images of young sweaty sex in dark places that push up against Woods’ ecstacy. In this inner sanctum truth is told. Some loved her first surrender; others were betrayed. The Riddle of the Sphinx is further explored in the feminine taking us from innocent babes trying on identities through to the broken promises that come followed by the devil whispering, Just give up, Lady.
On this night, I was witness to the understudy performances of Lady in Orange (McKenzie Frye), Lady in Purple (Treshelle Edmond) and Lady in Green (Alexis Sims). These performers were as polished in energy and timing as the rest in their ensemble. But the pleasure of feet landing softly is countered by the disappointment of voices landing equally as soft, especially in these understudies. It is as if Brown forgot to sit in the back of the house and ask for the voices of her cast to reach her there. Characters fall in love with the right man, the wrong man, her girlfriend’s man, but much of Shange’s beautiful poetry gets lost. I am grateful that Edmond signs and speaks her lines emphasizing and slowing us down to hear again to consider further the clever turns of phrase. Without her, I would have missed far more of what was said.
A powerful voice is carried by Lady in Red (Kenita R. Miller). Miller herself is also visibly carrying life in her belly. She dances unafraid to transcend the limitations of her ever changing body, but it is Miller’s face that is the most finely tuned instrument of expression I have ever seen. Her visage is fluid from beautiful, a horror, a funny man, a judging man, a holy woman to mother’s heartbreak. Miller tells the final tale of the night, which comes after some general man bashing that did not age well in this rivival of a 1976 composition. We hear every word because no one dares to move or even cry. We will do that later. We are hit where many women still live trapped by unspeakable loss. Salvation is in the lil colored girls’ sisterhood who fold the wounded spirit into their love and lay their hands on grieving bodies gifting solace and solidarity.
FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF by Ntozake Shange directed and choreographed by Camille A. Brown
WITH Amara Granderson (Lady in Orange), Tendayi Kuumba (Lady in Brown), Kenita R. Miller (Lady in Red), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), Stacey Sargeant (Lady in Blue), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple), D. Woods (Lady in Yellow), Rachel Christopher (Standby for Lady in Red), Treshelle Edmond (Understudy Lady In Purple), Karla Ross (Understudy Lady in Brown/Yellow), Alexis Sims (Understudy Lady in Red/Green), McKenzie Frye (Understudy Lady in Blue).
Lights by Jiyoun Chang, Costumes by Sarafina Bush, Music by Redbone and Whitby, Music Direction by Deah Love Harriott, Associate Director is Christina Franklin, Sound by Justin Ellington, Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne, Scene Design by Hyung Hee Cho, Hair, Wig and Make-up by Cookie Jordan, Artistic Sign Language directed by Michelle Banks.
Runs through August 14. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Get tickets here or call Telecharge 212-239-6200. Booth Theatre, 222 W 45th St, New York, NY 10036. Map & Directions Box Office is open Monday – Saturday: 10am – 8:30pm & Sunday 12pm – 6pm