Sometimes life (especially life in the arts) is full of surprises. What was to be simply a benefit national staged reading of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” was transformed into something much deeper and meaningful this past Monday. With a mere two days of rehearsal, director Dale Shields transformed his ensemble cast (made up of veteran and freshman performers) into a powerful voice that reverberated off the walls of the 164 seat Rainey Institute Theater that is located at 1705 E. 55th Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.
“for colored girls…” is a “choreopoem” (dance combined with music and poetry) that is made up of 20 separate poems performed by seven women who are known only by the color of the long scarves with which they are adorned (Red, Orange, Blue, Brown, Green, Yellow and Purple). Over the course of the show, various tough subjects are illustrated such as young love, peer pressure, rape, abandonment, abortion, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and infanticide. It is done with brutal honesty and frankness with a balance of humor and drama. One minute you are laughing out loud as the women imitate their “men folk”, the next you feel your heart being ripped out as the deaths of two young children are revealed.
The show has been around since 1974 when the author Ntozake Shange first put down on paper a series of personal experiences. From its first run through by the author and four actors in a bar outside of Berkeley, California it has since been on Broadway (where it won a Theater World Award, a Tony, a Drama Desk Award and an Obie). It has also been published as a book and was made into a tele-play as well as a motion picture.
This staging featured the talents of Mariama Whyte*, Nina Domingue*, Kimberly Brown, Maha McCain, Pia Long, Benita Rahman and Sabrina McPherson who came together as a sisterhood and who played off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses for an extraordinary evening of top notch theater. This was as nearly perfect acting as one could find.
Following the show, a talk back panel was brought on stage along with the actors for a post show discussion. Participating on the panel was Choreographer and Dancer Dianne McIntyre; Author, Speaker and Educator Heather E. Burton, PhD; African-American History Lecturer, Donna M. Whyte, PhD and Founder of “I Am Alive on Purpose”, Latoyia Jones. It became a situation of when art imitates life as the drama of the stage brought forth stories from the audience that was just as heartfelt and emotional.
Prude Alert: Although this was a one-time reading, it should be noted for future renditions that the show is well known for its language as well as the intense subject matter. This is not the show for the sensitive at heart or for young children.
Beefs and Flubs: Although there were some minor technical errors, the actors on stage shouldered on without missing a beat. From an acting standpoint, it was as nearly perfect as one can find in a theater setting.
Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): The benefit national stage reading of “for colored girls…” as done by Dale Shields and his cast shows how great theater does not need fancy costuming or sets. All it needs is an astonishly talented cast and an audience who believes in magic. It is my hope that this work will appear soon in the Cleveland area.