Ntozake Shange’s play, the “choreopoem” for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, was revived in a wonderful production at the Public Theater a few months before the pandemic closed down theater. Now that revival arrives on Broadway (Booth Theatre, booking to Aug. 14), directed by its choreographer, Camille A. Brown.
In joy, grief, anger, and collective pleasure, seven women known by the color of their clothes (designed by Sarafina Bush) come together to tell, sing, and dance their stories: Lady in Blue (Stacey Sargeant), Lady in Brown (Tendayi Kuumba), Lady in Orange (Amara Granderson), Lady in Red (Kenita R. Miller), Lady in Yellow (D. Woods, also the show’s dance captain), and two actors remaining from the Public production—Lady in Green (Okwui Okpokwasili) and Lady in Purple (Alexandria Wailes).
The 20 poetic stories that make up For Colored Girls…, performed in its first incarnation in 1974, completed in 1976, and winner of an Obie and many other awards, encompass aspects of a multitude of Black women’s lives and experiences, ranging from the pleasures of dance and hero crushes, to rape, abortion, shame, death, defiance, strength, and laughter. And always movement, always dancing.
At the Public, the show existed in a kind of disco-era round. Intriguingly on Broadway, designer Myung Hee Cho simplifies the set with a group of screens. Jiyoun Chang designs gorgeous lighting that captures the show’s moods—from light and joyful to desperate and dark. Deah Love Harriot’s music builds on Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby’s original orchestrations, and American Sign Language used by Wailes, who is deaf, and by and between the other characters.
While one or a number of women speak, the others listen. The stage feels as fluid as the narratives. At the outset, while introducing where they are from, the Lady in Brown makes clear that what we are about to hear is about “colored girls who have considered suicide/but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.” The appreciation, particularly from Black women in the audience, was audible throughout the show. On stage, a powerful sequence sees the women profess to each other “unity,” “love,” “support,” “sister,” and “cherish.”
As written by Shange, who died in October 2018, each woman has much to say: The Lady in Red tells us about an affair and also, in a section called “No more love poems,” meditates on identity and stereotypes: “ever since i realized there waz someone callt/a colored girl an evil woman a bitch or a nag/i been tryin not to be that & leave bitterness/in somebody else’s cup.” The Lady in Blue talks about an abortion and later notes how “dry and abstract” white people are.
The Lady in Brown talks about her all-consuming crush on Toussaint Louverture, leader of the 18th century Haitian Revolution, who as a little girl she stayed up at night with discussing strategies, “like how to remove white girls from my hopscotch games.”
The Lady in Red is fed up of being ignored in her relationship and so is leaving her farewell note “attached to a plant/i’ve been waterin since the day i met you/you may water it/yr damn self.” The Lady in Blue notes the “six blocks of cruelty” she lives within in Harlem. The Lady in Purple thinks of a man she and some of the women fell for, even though he was cheating on all of them. The Lady in Orange thinks about heartbreak, the Lady in Yellow about dance, and the “metaphysical” challenge of “bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored.” And in a standout segment delivered by Okpokwasili, the Lady in Green thinks about dealing with a man who has just walked off with all her stuff, and she’ll be damned if he’s going to get away with this violation, which, her steely delivery emphasizes, goes beyond stolen objects.
Interspersed with their solo confessionals, the women come together to share and tell, sing and dance, other stories. “My love is too” involves each woman invoking their own word to add before the end of the sentence “to have thrown back on my face,” including “delicate,” “beautiful,” and “sanctified.” A horrific story of familial violence is followed by a laying on of hands and a resounding statement, spoken and visual, of collective care and strength. The women’s exuberance, their togetherness, their loyalty to each other, their love for each other, is sustaining for them and a bracing, life-imparting thing to watch for us.