New McCree Theatre Revives Ntozake Shange’s Powerful 70s Choreopoem

colored-girls-2Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

“Being alive and being a woman is all I got, but being colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t conquered yet.” If any one line captures the essence of The New McCree Theatre’s current production, this is it.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is ninety minutes of powerful emotion as seven women perform Ntozake Shange’s Tony Award-nominated 1970s era choreopoem. Defined as a series of vignettes combining poetry, dance, music and song, this piece serves to weave and connect the black female experience through stories of love, struggle, personal liberation and ultimately loss.

Director Cathye Johnson’s players represent the colors of the rainbow with names as Lady in Red (Elizabeth Cleveland), Lady in Green (Cassandria A. Harris), Lady in Yellow (Shannen Hawkins), Lady in Blue (Ayana S. Mitts), Lady in Brown (Alina Trionne Oliver), Lady in Orange (Patricia Thompson) and Lady in Purple (Beverly Wlkerson-Woods). They are dressed to match, each sporting a loose tunic and pants/leggings although they begin the show in masks as well.

Johnson’s staging is smooth as each Lady gets her moment in the spotlight allowing their individual personalities to emerge. While all are strong in their own way, Oliver is outstanding as Lady in Brown and various other personas. Her introduction set the tone and her description of her love affair with the French writer Toussaint at age eight is terrific. Her quick switch of allegiance to Toussaint Jones, a boy in the neighborhood, is welcome comic relief.

Cleveland brings a comic and crusty shell to her role as Red breaking up by returning a plant, but knocked Friday night’s audience for an emotional loop with her heart-rending description of domestic abuse involving not only herself but her children as well.

Other moments will be memorable including Hawkins’ youthful Yellow caught up in teenage sexual pressure and its eventual outcome, and Mitts’ downtrodden Blue showcasing her depth and the long standing anguish of abortion with “I used to live in the world, then I moved to Harlem”.

“Someone almost walked off with all of my stuff,” rages Harris’ Lady in Green and we realize she’s not just lamenting the loss of material things. Both Thompson’s Lady in Orange and Wilkerson-Woods’ Lady in Purple join the rage against the world, their status there, and especially the gentlemen in their lives who almost always proved less than worthy.

Once or twice technical glitches with sound caused music to overpower speech, but the set for this show is interesting and well done. The paintings on a few of the panels deserve to be framed!

Overall, this is a solid effort. Shange’s script, though hopefully a bit dated, is handled with care here. Each character speaks plainly about their men, their surroundings, their desires, their disappointments, their pain and their joy as they move, dance, sway, or simply stand to project the strength, endurance and humor that sustains them.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf continues at The New McCree Theatre through March 19. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/tickets.html

 

 

 

 

 

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