i’m outside strasbourg, france, i’m outside nashville, i’m outside washington, d.c., i’m outside harlem, i’m outside la habana, cuba, i’m outside brooklyn, i’m outside newark, Delaware & this is for colored girls who have considered suicide but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.
Seven vibrant and diverse women of color take the stage and speak, sing and dance at the start of this shining revival of author Ntozake Shange’s landmark play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide /When the Rainbow Is Enuf. They’re wearing costume designer Toni-Leslie James’ beautiful fluorescent dresses, each in a different color, and some have regal headpieces.
The dynamic cast of Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), and Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple) vividly perform Ms. Shange’s self-invented “choreopoem,” a theatre piece embracing poetry, movement, and music. Each of these magnetic performers brings distinction and individuality to their roles.
The 20-separate poems declaimed in the show collectively dramatize the female African-American experience with realism, suspense and humor. Domestic violence, unwed pregnancy, loss of virginity, bad romances, and drug abuse are among the subjects fiercely depicted. The segment on rape contains the lines:
eyes crawling up on me
eyes rollin in my thighs…
get offa me alla this blood
bones shattered like soft ice-cream cones
The unison of director Leah C. Gardiner’s vigorous focused staging and Camille A. Brown’s expressive earthy choreography result in a visual and emotional spectacle. The performers are in perpetual motion all over the bare stage and at times in the theater’s aisles with boldness and precision, matching the piece’s soaring writing.
Scenic designer Myung Hee Cho’s polished wood floor of the circular spacious playing area and its mirrored walls achieve a celestial atmosphere, accentuating the material’s timelessness. From the ceiling of the main seating area hang icicle-shaped glass lights and disco balls. Some audience members are onstage in rows of seats along the walls which looks neat to those in the auditorium but the view of the production from that location there could be possibly problematic.
Jiyoun Chang’s glorious lighting design enhances each sequence with a seemingly different mood, suiting the varying narrative tones. Martha Redbone’s original music is a cool blend of jazz and modern melodies. This score, the effects and the pop songs such as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” are realized by Megumi Katayama’s clarion sound design.
After being developed and performed by Shange in California bars and performance spaces and then at New York City Off-Off Broadway venues, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf opened at the Public Theater in June 1976, winning Obies for Shange, the cast and director Oz Scott. The production transferred to Broadway that September where it ran for 742 performances and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. It was filmed for PBS’ WNET-TV in 1982 and in 2010 there was director Tyler Perry’s feature film adaptation. Each of these screen versions employed a realistic presentational approach and were critically unsuccessful.
Here, we get a For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf engineered by an all-female creative team grandly reveling in theatricality and evoking the sense of excitement it obviously must have had in 1976. Sadly, Shange died in 2018 at the age of 70 and is not around to savor this triumphant incarnation of her masterpiece.
i usedta live in the world
now i live in harlem & my universe is six blocks
a tunnel with a train
i can ride anywhere
remaining a stranger
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (through December 8, 2019)
The Public Theater
Martinson Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org
Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission