For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide
Also see Rosemary's review of The Year of Magical Thinking
How lucky for local theater that they chose to expand Ntozake Shange's famous choreo-poem into a musicala dazzling new production one weekend only (April 29 – May 1, 2011) at the VSA North Fourth Art Center. The three sold-out performances attest to community hunger for this sort of creative energy and future demand for more performances just when we learn that our new Governor has zeroed out the budget for the African American Performing Arts Center and the Commission on the Status of Women.
Shange's collection of twenty poems was first recited and danced by seven women identified only by the color of their dresses as the lady in red, the lady in orange and so on at a women's bar in Berkeley, California, in December 1973. It moved to New York in 1975, and to the Booth Theater on Broadway in 1976, where it won a Theatre World Award, a Tony, an Obie, and a Drama Desk Award in 1977.
When I first saw the Broadway production in 1977, I described it as consciousness raising for the world: women telling their private stories to each other with the whole world listening; struggles for survival and autonomy, girls' curiosity about a world beyond childhood, recovery from rape and abortion, resilience in the face of rejection and abuse, and ultimately a discovery of power in sisterhood"I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely ... for colored girls who are moving to the ends of their own rainbows."
Exhibiting their own many talents, Dawley and McGill are joined by ten other women dancing, singing, acting what colored girls growing up in the fifties and sixties in St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, and across America experienced in their bodies, minds, hearts and souls. Regina Dawley opens by leading the ensemble in dancing to the opening poem "dark phases of womanhood/ of never having been a girl." LaMonique Davidson, who started dancing at age ten in Little Rock before moving to Rio Rancho in her teens, warms the hearts of the audience with her story of losing her virginity on graduation night.
Sandi Kay, whose credits include film and television, excites with her performance of "Now I Love Somebody." McGill brings down the house in laughter and applause with her monologue of a woman delivering a plant she's cared for to her lover's door after months of rejection with the note: "you can water it your damn self." Youngest cast member and UNM theater student Dominique Gray narrates a poignant painful abortion story. Dawley closes what the Rainbow Company calls act one with a charming tale of a girl who discovers her history in the adult section of her public library and goes in search of Toussaint l'Ouverture.
Kalene Dan-JumBo, who makes her stage debut, presents the poem "One" that opens act two. Most riveting is the production surrounding Cecilia Webb's performance about moving to Harlem: "I used to live in the world." Singer, musician, radio host Webb has been performing around New Mexico for decades. Chandra Ursule Brown, native New Yorker raised in the sixties and seventies Black Arts Movement now with film credits, and Brenda Hollingsworth-Marley, vocalist, storyteller, dancer, drummer, poet, lead the ensemble in "No More Love Poems."
Shange places the two cleverest poems before a final tragic story. Model and certified sign language interpreter Diana Gaitirira recites the always hilarious "somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff" with its feminist message that nobody can steal a woman's hard-won self-confidence. Journalist Teona Ducre makes her stage debut, winning us first with "I'm a Poet" and then leading the ensemble in proclaiming that she doesn't need any more "sorry" excuses from boyfriends because she's moving on. Ballerina and yoga teacher Alana Grier pirouettes through poems and musical numbers throughout the performance.
McGill rivets us with the final tragic poem about young love betrayed. Crystal tries to protect her children from their abusive father Beau Willie Brown, whose sweet talk has gone sour. But he tricks her into letting him hold their children and then drops them out of a fifth floor window. How sad that the pathos of Shange's poetic drama rings as true today as it did 34 years ago.
Among the four musical numbers, most amazing are McGill's original music and arrangements of two of Shange's original poems. The entire ensemble dances to "my love is too strong, ... too sensitive, ... too Saturday night, ... " and so on in the "Yanka Dank Song." Her rousing semi-finale "Everything That's Good Is Me" almost brought the audience to their feet. The final song "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart did bring on a standing ovation.
Many designers and stage workers collaborated to create a seamless professional productionforemost Choreographer Dawley and Music Director McGill. Lighting Designer Myers created a constantly changing palate of dramatic colors. Video Set Designer Marie-Michele Jasmin-Belisle filled the backdrop with inspiring visions of the stories being told and political commentaries. Stage Manager Marcus Ray kept the production rolling without pause. Stu MacAskie coordinated music, and Armando Archuleta operated the sound board.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange was performed by The Rainbow Studio Theater Company April 29 – May 1, 2011, at VSA North 4th Art Center, 4904 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque.