Monday, February 25, 2013
Metropolitan Ensemble "For Colored Girls" review by kellyluck
For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuff
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
Colored Girl. I remember the first time I heard it.
I was... what, twelve? Call it twelve. I had been playing with some neighbor kids the better part of the afternoon. When I came in afterward my grandmother asked, not unpleasantly, "Who was that little colored girl you were playing with?" At first, I didn't know what she meant; I got this mental picture of a girl painted over with yellows and reds and blues, all swirls and splotches like a walking Jackson Pollack painting. It took a bit of back-and-forth before I realized who she was referring to. Funny thing how child minds are imprinted: for the longest time I couldn't hear "colored" without imagining rainbow people.
Flash forward a few decades. I'm stepping with some trepidation into the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre's production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf". A white girl from the comfortable suburbs of the Midwest, stepping into a world manifestly not her own. I feel almost that I am intruding, in a way. A voyeur, sneaking a hasty glance into the other side of life before scampering back to the safety of my own. But in fact, Ntozake Shange's best-known work pulled me in and didn't let go 'til the very end.
Understand. This is not your normal narrative: Schange calls it a "choreopoem", think spoken word, performed by a rainbow of everywomen, each known only by the color she wears. They move from character to character, story to story. The ensemble (Chioma Anyanwu, Victoria Barbee, Donette Coleman, Aishah Harvey, Lynn King, Sherri Roulette Mosley, and Meredith Wolfe) take us through memories and experiences comic and tragic, songs of innocence and experience until at the very end, when our spirits, wrung out and exhausted from the journey, are restored as the women of the play heal each other--and indirectly, us--with a laying on of hands. "I found God in myself, and I loved her," they tell each other. "I loved her fiercely."
A play of this sort is, to my mind, aptly at home at a venue like the MET. Karen Paisley ably directs the show, and makes excellent use of the intimate space. The performances were generally very strong, and the play flowed smoothly from beginning to end. One interesting thing to note is that Ms Paisley opted to present the play without an intermission. It seemed to this reviewer that this was the right decision: the structure of the play rather depends on the stories building up one atop another, and a break would have killed that. The ensuing performance is a bit long, but riveting enough to keep one drawn in all the way to the end. Also of note is the lighting design by Greg Casparian, which complements Shannon Smith Regnier's costume design quite nicely.
"For Colored Girls..." is an intense piece. Considered revolutionary when it was first presented in 1975, it still has the power to shock and move. Shange is a superlative wordsmith, and the performers at the current production show they are well and truly up to the material. It is not an easy thing to sit through. There are not a lot of laughs, or a tune you can hum on your way out the door. It's not that kind of show. But it is an amazing, visceral theatrical experience and one, if I may say so, easily worth digging through the latest crop of snow to see.