note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Eto
Costume Design by Tamara Kearney & Stephanie Espy
Lighting Design by Richard Marcus
Sound Design /DJ by Aron Quasba
Other Incidental Music by Bill Evans
Stage Manager Sean Austin
Assistant Stage Managers Neena Kadaba & Julie Park
Lady in Brown..............Maru Colbert
Lady in Gray..............Ticora V. Jones
Lady in Turquoise.............Ebony Smith
Lady in Green...Jovonne J. Bickerstaff
Lady in Purple............Kortney Adams
Lady in Red..............Shanice Williams
Lady in Navy..............April M. Griffin
Lady in Orange..........Huanne Thomas
Lady in Yellow..............Erica Shelton
They shot onstage one by one and flung themselves into frozen attitudes, each before her own tall, expressionist portrait. The nine were all shapes and sizes, all ages and shades, and the only things uniting them were they were barefoot, they were women, and they were Black. And they could dance!
As they performed Ntozake Shange's choreopoems --- some in solo spots, some with the rest of the group as responsive listeners, some as chains of variations, each one brought her own uniqueness into play, the edges of each individual uniting into a mosaic. "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.
All the pains and excitements and terrors and triumphs of being young, being Black, being women found expression in the words, in the walk, and in dance. No choreographer was listed, but these nine proved they could move in identical chorus, could each express their unique characters in solo, and could let their individual styles compete on the prom-floor.
As the kaleidoscope of emotions and experiences unfolded, I could hear people in the audience around me begin to signify. I realized those nine lives exposing themselves on stage were not performing for me. I ain't a woman, and my beard has turned the color my face is painted. I would never understand a tenth of what was going down onstage. But those nine knew, and Ntozake Shange gave them poems through which to express it.
The focus of this show is so much on those women that I must remind myself that Thomas DeFrantz the director melded all this material into a flowing whole, that Eto designed those big, eloquently garish, in-your-face portraits, that Aron Qasba chose and played the music, Richard Marcus did the lighting, and that Sean Austin and crew did all the backstage work; that I must remind myself that the MIT Dramashop is all students, and only two of the nine women were old enough to be grad students.
After the nine had danced their in-character bows, as I went out in the lobby to pick up my coat, I could see the radiant cast break out of their greenroom to greet friends, family, well-wishers. And there was huggin, and screamin, laffin and kissin and radiant smiles from an audience that were all shapes and sizes, all ages and shades. There were men in that group, there were even a scattering of faces white as mine mixed in that mess of exuberant joy --- and for a moment I thought of joining in. Theater people are my friends, and I like to tell people, face to face, how much I liked their work.
But I didn't. I will never understand a tenth of what went down on that stage, and this was their moment, not mine.
But also, I remembered a night twenty-eight years ago, when I went to the Elma Lewis School for Afro-American Artists to review a play by Ed Bullins. After I sat waiting for a long time, the director (Jim Spruill) plunked himself down beside me and said "Well, we took a vote out back, but it came out ten to ten. So you can stay if you want to."
So I understand that this production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf" wasn't being done just so I could write this review.
But I thank those nine ladies for letting me stay.