True Colors

Ensemble is powerful in JBT’s For Colored Girls

Seven African-American women portray the title’s “Colored Girls” in Ntozake Shange’s poetic play at the John Beasley Theater, but the diversity of their personas and performances doesn’t allow for easy summary. In the beginning, some voices were muffled by a sound track that added to the impact of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf when it didn’t cut into clarity. That problem didn’t entirely disappear, but most of the 20 separate pieces came across well enough. The seven took us on a heart-wrenching journey through the troubling experience of being both “colored,” as they often put it, and a woman, then lifted the audience as they came together in song. The Lady in Red (Dani Cleveland) declared, “I found God in me, and I love Her,” and the others, all identified by the colors they wore, joined in to repeat that hopeful discovery. And we needed to hear affirmation. They told of abuse in all its forms, of dashed dreams and mistreatment. Ms. Cleveland delivers the most dramatic moment when she tells of Crystal’s troubles with Beau Willie, her good-for-nothing man who tries to sweet-talk his way back into her life, then threatens to drop their two children from a fifth-floor window. Felicia Webster as the Lady in Green draws on her Slam Poet experience to make the most effective use of repetition when she takes the front and center of the Beasley stage to complain, “Somebody went off with all my stuff.” And we learn that “all my stuff” meant more than property; it included her very self. Then Marcia Dunn Holley, a slim Lady in Blue, took up her complaint against men who cheat and then say, “I’m sorry.” She warns the man who would call and apologize not to bother, but go apologize to someone else. Soon all seven women are mocking those feeble “I’m sorry” refrains. While much of the performance consists of these separate soliloquies or monologues, director Tyrone Beasley finds occasions to bring them together in song, dance or sisterly embraces. Another Holley, Ms. Marci Holley, brought the cast bios to life for this reviewer when a young girl in front of me turned around in her seat to announce, “She’s my grandmother,” adding later, “We go to Paradise Baptist Church.” Sure enough, the bio paragraph pointed out that the woman, making her Beasley debut as the Lady in Purple, was the mother of nine and “Nani (grandma) of seven.” And that she’d written, directed and acted in plays at Paradise Baptist. TammyRa, on the other hand, made the Lady in Yellow another of her many fine performances in this and other venues. Among her characters, she played a new graduate who had her dreams deferred when a man “talked to me like I was a woman.” As her frowning friend put it, “So you gave it up to him in a Buick?” One of the happier characters, played by Patricia West as the Lady in Orange, tries to dance her troubles away. But a man brings her to conclude, “You hurt me more than I could dance out of.” As the Lady in Brown, Zedeka Poindexter, a published member of the Omaha Slam Team, opens and closes the play with a calming, grounded presence. Don’t come to this play, however, for comfort. Language that doesn’t usually make me flinch was harder to hear with young boys and girls in the preview night audience. The upside is that they heard from women who weren’t defeated by life and fought for their dignity. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf runs Dec. 9-19, Jan. 6-16, Thurs.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. and Sun. 3 p.m. in the John Beasley Theater at the LaFern Williams Center, 30th and Q. Tickets are $27, $22 students and seniors, $16 Thurs. Call 502.5767 or visit johnbeasleytheater.org.

posted at 01:41 pm
on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

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