Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Anticipating seven "Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuh," Thursday's National Theater First-nighters were spreading their programs and glaring at their watches when an anonymous white man in a black velvet suit took the stage. Explaining that he obviously was not a member of the cast, producer Joseph Papp, for it was The Great Man Himself, explained that the theater's newest gadget had broken down.
The Computer that works the light cues had slipped a cog, or whatever Computers should not do. But all would be well shortly, and, thanks to human hands and brains, indeed it was.
Ntozake Shange's remarkable words and Oz Scott's ingenious, beautiful staging remained what they were a year ago - and still are - in New York: a unique, moving and humorously buoyant assertion of womankind, young and black in particular.
New Jersey-born, Barnard and University of Southern California graduate who thinks of herself primarily as a poet, Shange had the good fortune to inspire choreographer Paula Moss with her words. Together, they had the further fortune to quicken the imagination of young Scott, who found cohesion in the poetry and kindred spirits in scenic designer Ming Cho Lee and costume designer Judy Dearing. Her mixture of orange, pink, red, purple, green, blue and yellow against Ming's dark levels is an exceptionally satisfying constantly shifting kaleidoscope.
Taking her seven girls from different parts of the country. Shange sees them all as having had comparable adventures. Generally, they suffer from cruel lovers or unrequited love. Suicide certainly would be understandable, but as the finale composed by Diane Wharton, proclaims, "I found God in Myself" - and that proves to be the rainbow that is enuf.
The effect of Scott's adaptation of the excerpts, recited solo or in groups has a seamless, crescendo effect. Without intermission, the 90 minutes show the girls individually. Initially they are apart, removed from one another and indeed from experience. Retrospectively, they relate personal adventures - their words harsh, mocking, crude, impassioned. They listen to one another, melding together, breaking apart. Finally, after the saddest story of all, told by the Lady in Red, they gather up their spirits, recall the Gospel songs of their childhood and sing a jubilant one composed for them by Wharton.
That finale is the sort of one that can build further than last night's audience encouraged, but that's the way first-nighters are. At my New York matinee, the largely black, full theater grabbed the beat with their clapping hands and extended it for 10 minutes.
This is a work of mood and spirit. Without the initial 35-minute delay, later audiences very likely will catch the emotional pull - a theatricality Shange may suspect, for she has written: "Now I have left the show on Broadway . . . either too big for my Off-Off-Broadway taste or too little for my exaggerated sense of freedom."
Trazana Beverley, as the Lady in Red, is one of these rare people to whom an audience instantly relates. A tall woman, muscular and lithe, she has a face that eases from mockery into heartbreak - a deft, overwhelming presence, but the sort of spirit to be toyed with by the inhumanity of a Computer.