A COLLECTIVE VOICE The ladies.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange’s lengthy choreopoem, was first performed in 1975 and presented on Broadway the following year, but the concerns it expresses are hardly restricted by time — or, largely, even race.
Mixed Magic Theatre is presenting an impressive production (March 7 and 8 at Theatre 82 and March 15 and 16 at 95 Empire Black Box), directed with finesse by Jackie Davis. From humor to pathos and the full spectrum of emotions in between, there is nary a false note delivered by the seven talented actors in this 90-minute song of praise and lament.
The rainbow reference in the title is more than a metaphor of hope, it is a reminder of the breadth of differences among African-American women, in personal experiences as well as skin tones. To that point, the actors are billed, and dressed, as Lady in Red (MJ Daly), Lady in Orange (Makeda Njoroge), Lady in Yellow (Aimee Hamrick), Lady in Green (Janay Pina), Lady in Blue (Sarah Ashley), Lady in Purple (Kimmy Xavier), and Lady in Brown (Jeannie M. Carson).
A heartbeat is provided by occasional percussive emphases by Kali Otto on the conga drum.
A dark tone is established immediately. The cast enters and disperses in apparent distress, and one of them speaks of “distraught laughter fallin’ over a black girl’s shoulder,” soon to ask, “somebody, anybody, sing a black girl’s song, bring her out to know herself, to know you. . . Sing her song of life, she’s been dead so long.”
And that’s what Shange does, giving voice to a collective black girl through a variety of experiences. In her first short monologue, the Lady in Yellow is the only virgin in her partying crowd. Until, in the back seat of his Buick, sweet-talking Bobby “started lookin’ at me, yeah, he started lookin’ at me real strange, like I was a woman or somethin’.” And “by daybreak, I just couldn’t stop grinnin’.”
Following that, describing another
way to feel especially alive, the Lady in Blue tells of being 16 and sneaking off from New Jersey to the South Bronx to dances (which made me smile, because that’s just where and what my mother did, and met my father). This acted-out anecdote is performed with particular vitality by Ashley, an important balance soon after the brooding opening. Not understanding all the Spanish around her was no problem: “If he could lead, I was ready to dance. If he couldn’t lead, I caught this attitude I’d seen Rosa do and would not be bothered.”
So that’s how things proceed, with one of them stepping out to tell a story, as the others sometimes comment or briefly advise. After the Lady in Orange says how she has to dance to get out of her head, get away from words, for example, the Lady in Yellow rushes over, takes her hands, and suggests, “We gotta dance to keep from cryin’,” and the Lady in Brown adds, “We gotta dance to keep from dyin’.” Then some of the women toss in observations about men pretending to be friendly but only after sex. That quickly gets into a collective discussion of date rape. “A friend is hard to press charges against,” says one. “If you know him, you must have wanted it,” another adds. Concluding: “A rapist is always to be a stranger to be legitimate, someone you never saw, a man with obvious problems.”