For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf
A Play For All People
A choreopoem by Ntozake Shange
Directed by Thomas DeFrantz
Set design by Eto Otitgbe ’99
Costumes by Tamara Kearney ’99 and Stephanie Epsy ’01.
Lighting by Richard Marcus.
With Kortney Adams G, Jovonne Bickerstaff ’02, Maru Colbert G, April Griffin ’99, Ticora Jones ’00, Erica Shelton ’99, Eboney Smith ’01, Huanne Thomas ’02, Shanice Williams ’00.
Presented by MIT Dramashop.
At Little Kresge Theater on April 29-30 and May 1 at 8pm.
In a word: Go. Put down the problem set or pizza. Put off renting the movie or heading out to the club. Whatever your plans for the weekend may be, set them aside and witness something too powerful to miss.
Since its critically acclaimed debut on Broadway in 1976, Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf continues to affect audiences with its message. Presented this weekend by MIT Dramashop, For Colored Girls offers a perspective on what it is to be female and of color in modern America. Directed by Associate Professor Thomas DeFrantz, this production is fierce and flavorful. It mixes the eloquence and intensity of Shange’s language with a groove of live DJ and an out-of-this-world set.
For Colored Girls is a series of twenty poems performed through a cast of nameless women, known only by a color: Lady in Yellow, Lady in Purple, etc. The poems deal with such subjects as love, abandonment, rape, and abortion, and Shange -- which means “she who walks like a lion” in Zulu -- doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to these hard-hitting issues. She communicates the hardships of physical and emotional abuse, the strength of unity, and the tragedy of loss with focus and passion.
The performances of the nine actresses are equally focused on their specific stories. From Lady in Green’s (Griffin) visceral account of a girl who chooses to abort her baby to Lady in Red’s (Williams) horrifying tale of domestic abuse, the performances are sharp and bone-chilling. The language grabs you and gets under your skin -- there were few dry eyes in the audience during the opening night performance.
The play has its moments of laughter and joy as well. Lady in Orange (Thomas) embodies the tenacity of youth as she runs away from home to live with Haitian liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture. And although the play expresses a certain dissatisfaction with the roles men have played in its characters’ lives, it transcends male-bashing and becomes a message of self-respect and reverence. The end of the play brings together all of the women for “a laying on of hands.” Shange evokes the power of womanhood as the Lady in Brown (Colbert) begins the mantra “I found God in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.”
“I think it’s an elegant piece of writing,” says Director Thomas DeFrantz. “[Shange’s] stories are still pungent, melodious, and important.” In his class on African American Performance, DeFrantz found that his students felt very connected to Shange’s work; word about the play began buzzing around, and pretty soon “enough people expressed an interest in trying to do it.”
For Colored Girls is undoubtedly a play for all people, with Shange’s love for her characters resonating throughout the text. Her commitment to their experience allows the play to be a message to the entire world. “This play has reflections of everyone, not only black women,” says DeFrantz.
The strength of the play attracted several students to the project. After a few readings, a large crew of actors, designers, and technicians came together for this production. “The play invites that type of collaborative effort,” says DeFrantz. Among the crew, set designer Eto Otitgbe ’99 added his artistic perspective to Shange’s work. Using photos of the actresses, sketches taken during rehearsal, and interpretations of Shange’s poems, Otitgbe and his team of scenic artists created larger than life size portraits of the actresses for the stage. The vibrancy of color and expression in these stylized portraits was a dynamic addition to the production.
This presentation of Shange’s work also offers a soundtrack with a live DJ. Aron Qasba ’00 cues several moments of the play with a variety of music. “We chose a DJ to bring it into the 90’s,” says DeFrantz. The DJ brought energy and contrast to the performances with music from the likes of Lauryn Hill, Sly Stone, and Nina Simone. And I definitely remember grooving to a funkadelic loop and the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm”.
It’s a show worth seeing. It’s a play that needed to be done. For Colored Girls is provocative and unapologetic, and, despite what the title says, everyone on campus should experience what it has to offer.