Sunday, October 03, 2004

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf' (Karamu)

Karamu opens season with thought-provoking production

They come on stage one at a time, each woman dressed in a different color. Each sings, dances, and recites poetry. Each tells tales of their experiences with men. Often men they loved far more than they loved themselves. These are men who have dominated, abused and taught them about life. Their words ring with passion, heartache, desire, rage and love. And, in the end, they come to the joint conclusion that “I found God in myself and I loved her!”

Ntozake Shange’s ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF’ is a choreopoem, a format which allows a group to speak as individuals, and yet as one. Sometimes, they dialogue with one another, at other times take part in each other's tales.

The piece gives "colored girls" a chance to speak out. The material ranges from the evening when one woman lost her virginity to a group diatribe about the lousy excuses that men tend to give for their behavior. "It was the senior prom and I was the only virgin in the class" began one. "I used to live in the world but I moved to Harlem and now my universe is just six blocks" started another. The segments range from funny to sad to heartbreaking.

Since the play was written in 1976 some of the material seems slightly outdated. In the intervening years, black women have been given more venues in which to speak out and reveal themselves. But while many things have changed, others have stayed the same.

The women are identified by color, not of their skin but of their clothes, for example, the Lady in Red, Lady in Purple. This allows each actress to play different characters and weave in and out of stories without a character identification.

The Karamu production brings many of emotions to the fore. Unfortunately, the overall effect is one of uneveness. The play itself, though powerful, is not consistently well written and balanced. The first act tends to drag with less variety and fewer emotionally powerful scenes. The best material is in the second act. And, as often happens with amateur productions, the talent on the Karamu stage ranges from astounding to adequate which makes for lulls in the emotional effect.

Terrency Spivey, in his second year as Karamu’s Artistic Director, has done a good job of creating effective stage pictures. He clearly leads the viewer’s eye to the proper place on stage. His creative use of scarves helps develop a visual unity to the production. He is aided by an excellent light design by Richard Morris, Jr. Morris’s stage design also works well.

The amazing Nina Domingue (Lady in Red), a former recipient of a Times Theatre Tribute, again proves she is one of the area’s acting divas. Her portrayal of a mother whose husband returns from Vietnam with Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome and destroys her family, has to be one of the most emotionally draining scenes ever seen. It is worth attending just to see her in action.

Other strong performances were consistently given by Monte Escalante (Lady in Purple), Corene Woodford (Lady in Green). Sonia N. Bishop (Lady in Blue) and Kimberly Brown (Lady in Orange).

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are interested in sharing what it is like to be a black woman from a black woman’s point of view, Karamu’s ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF’ is well worth seeing. If you are interested in observing one of the area’s all time great performances, go see Nina Domingue weave her magic.

PS.....Take time before the show and during intermission to read the encounters of African American women who have thought of or accomplished in committing suicides. Materials from the likes of Oprha Winfrey, Dorothy Dandridge and Mia Angelou are posted in the lobby.