For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, by Ntozake Shange; directed by Fred Lee; choreographed by Julie Lichtblau; lightning by Gary Floyd; scenery by Lewis Folden; with Kathy Simpson, M'Lafi Sylvia C. Thompson, Phyllis Baker, Joni Lee Jones, Lynne Brown, Valerie Pearson and Jan Simmons. At the Source Theatre through March 29.
Despite the success of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf," the nation's theaters have not been clogged with "choreo-poems" by fervent young disciples of playwright-poet Ntozake Shange. The movers and shakers of the theater remain skeptical, it seems, about the mass-audience appeal of verse illustrated with dance. So here's one success story that probably will not be duplicated.
Except by staging the original all over again, that is, with an inventive director and a cast of skillful dancer/actresses willing to throw themselves into the material with disarming abandon. And that's exactly what they've done up at the Source Theatre, where a fresh edition of "for colored girls. . ." opened last weekend. There is as much raw talent too -- as on any Washington stage at the moment, and the energy and versatility of the players is bound to register, even with audiences who find the text taxing.
As a piece of writing, "for colored girls . . ." has its high and low points. The former (concentrated in the early going, unfortunately) include a wry discussion of how hard it has become for a woman to press a rape charge against a non-stranger. Rapists are adhering less and less, the author laments, to the old stereotype of the unknown party who hides out in the park or climbs in through the window. They are doing an increasingly good job, in short, of passing themselves off as ordinary, respectable folks.
As time goes by, however, Shange's work loses focus and sounds increasingly like an anthology that could be titled". . . and other poems." In this waning phase of the entertainment, the audience owes its greatest debt to director Fred Lee and his cohorts for providing a maximum of visual verve with a minimum of scenery and props. Lee and choreographer Julie Lichtblau keep the bodies and lights flying and give each of the seven women in their company a chance to show us what she's made of. And in each case, she is made of something special.
Kathy Simpson puts a great deal of gentle charm into a slight verse tale about a childhood infatuation with Toussant L'Ouverture and a bus ride with a boy named Toussant Jones. In several sequences, Lynne Brown demonstrates a wicked sense of comedy -- and a fearful war whoop, while Joni Lee Jones and Phyllis Baker dance with power and grace (and both can act, too).
And the list could go on. As some of these performers will go on, surely, to bigger and better things.