FOR COLOURED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF (Ntozake Shange)
Director: Djanet Sears, With: Tamara Brown, Karen Glave, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, d’bi.young anitrfrika, Akosua Amo-Adem, SATE, Evangelia Kambites
For years, I have read numerous articles about FOR COLOURED GIRLS and its treatment of some extremely serious adult issues of the day ranging from HIV/AIDS to physical/emotional abuse and sexual assault. I wasn’t sure if venturing to see this production would or could make for an entertaining evening. To see this production is not entertaining, but it is important to become an audience for it. What is striking about Soulpepper’s production, in Director Djanet Sears’ words, is the fact we are invited to ‘set aside our understanding of genre, and our understanding of Black womanhood, so that we may follow [these] characters as they explore questions that still plague [black womanhood] four decades later.’
September 2016 celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Broadway production of FOR COLOURED GIRLS. In the Programme Notes, Ntozake Shange called her production a ‘choreopoem’ in that movement, voice, dance, song, poetry, sound and lighting all work seamlessly together on the stage to sculpt the English language in order for the text to leap from the page and into the audience’s lap in a manner that reflects the author’s experiences of the world. Forty years ago, I’m almost certain audiences would have found this 1 ½ hour play sans intermission shocking and disturbing for its content while inspiring and enlightening to the questions that are raised.
Once again, Soulpepper has exceeded in its excellence of story telling. Seven extraordinarily talented and stunningly beautiful women are a true ensemble of professional actors who tell this story with compassion, honesty, frankness, comedy, brutality, kindness, decency and redemption. Each woman is costumed in a specific colour of the rainbow that represents multiple viewpoints to which we are privy all the time. These individual colours of the rainbow emit some light but, when they gel together, the entwined colours become a tapestry of the beauty, strength and vitality of black womanhood.
Be prepared for some haunting moments that will remain with you long after the lights fade. Periodically, there is a consistent and persistent humming sound through many of the turbulent moments of the lives of these women. This humming becomes the voices of those women who have been wronged through no fault either of their own choice or their own doing. This sound also reminds us these women are human persons whose suffering will never, ever be erased. The rape of one of these women by a so called ‘friend’ will make you uncomfortable, angry and fearful of how such a horrible crime can be inflicted on another human being. The news of the HIV/AIDS virus is horrific and shocking. These seven women effortlessly control our emotions from the Baillie stage. At moments, we laugh as we can sense the joking and teasing while only seconds later our hearts and voices are ripped from our human soul as we see the affects of the atrocities of crimes committed against these women. But through it all, by the end of the production, we see how forty years ago these women endured and survived. Have these problems been erased forty years later? That, my friends, would be dinner topic but FOR COLOURED GIRLS makes us aware just how important this theatrical piece needs to be seen.
FOR COLOURED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF continues to June 3 in Toronto’s historic Distillery District at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit www.soulpepper.ca for further information or call 1-416-866-8666 for ticket information.
Previously published at OnStage
edited Sat May 20 2017