For Colored Girls [Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf] is a series of twenty interconnected poetic monologues, which tell the stories of seven black women, in a form which Ntozake Shange, whose work this production is based on, coined as the ‘choreopoem’.
It is not until you see something like this production that you realise how rare it is for a piece of theatre to tell the stories of black women, and black women alone. Perhaps the most difficult task for a piece of theatre such as this is achieving the right balance between depicting shared experiences of gender and race, and telling individuals’ stories – a balance I think this production does achieve. It does this playfully in the different colours assigned to each character, which she alone is identified by, and which each character wears in an individual way.
This colour play worked particularly well in this production against the bare stage and black backdrop, suiting the logistics of the Burton Taylor Studio. This was especially well executed when a cast member dressed in black accompanied one poetic monologue with dance, although I would have liked to see how this production could have made use of a larger stage space and lighting capabilities less limited than the Burton Taylor. The variation between monologues of different numbers of speakers is also powerful – whether they speak together or separately, the varying numbers of characters on stage, and the way in which they interact with each other.
Variation of this sort was, I felt, one of the most effective features of the production, which is fitting given the source material’s choreopoem form. Although there was perhaps less dance and music than expected (given the piece’s self-conscious references to rhythm and dance throughout), song and dance were used sparingly but well, and variation was achieved in other ways. Particularly impressive were the actors’ interactions with each other and with the audience, and the way in which they managed to create widely different moods on stage from one monologue to the next.
Such changes in characters, position, and mood made sure that the audience remained captivated until the end – no mean feat for a modern audience probably more used to action than dialogue. I only wish that the frequent ease of the actors on stage, and in particular in really owning their roles and dialogue (I was particularly impressed by the American accents maintained throughout), had been transferred to the movement between scenes, which was conducted hastily, and at times a little clumsily, in the dark. While this made for swift scene changes, as was surely the intended result, I couldn’t help but wish that the actors had owned their off-stage movements as well as they did on stage.
The takeaway is that For Colored Girls tells stories that deserve to be heard in a format that doesn’t allow you to look away. It is specific in its pain and universal in its reach, and it’s here until Saturday.