In 1976, Broadway presented a revolutionary production that gave voice to one of society's under-represented groups in a venue that usually spoke only to the "haves." Titled "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (When the Rainbow is Enuf)," this "choreo-poem" by Ntozake Shange grew from poetry readings in California coffeehouses to a full-fledged New York production that took the city and critics by storm. It seems that the "have-nots" had plenty to say in a way that reverberated with ardor and truth.
Much has changed since that time, but the intervening 20-plus years have not diminished the work's passionate and lyrical power to transfix an audience with its joyous, profound and fiercely honest portrayal of the modern American black woman's experience and view of life. The Orlando Black Theatre's current production of "For Colored Girls," as directed by Kanithea Powell, gives another generation of performers the opportunity to enlighten another generation of theatergoers with Shange's "song of possibilities," by those who have danced "on beer cans and shingles."
As in the original, seven black females, differentiated only by the color of their dress, trade off riffs, monologues and insights, in a tag-team rhythm that is part playground banter, part incantation and part group therapy. Set to the steady accompaniment of Abib Salaam's conga drums, the 75-minute prose-poem weaves through the lives and stories of several singular but also strangely archetypical black women -- women whose only common inheritance is the urban landscape dominated by violent men, ruthless poverty and dashed hopes.
Yet, all the women find, and ultimately teach us, the beauty of their true legacies. Whether we are listening to the story of graduation night in the back of a Buick, a litany of lovers' apologies, or the searing tale of babies borne by babies, we know we are hearing the sound of women discovering themselves through experience and brutal self-examination.
By the end, these "colored girls" have found God in themselves and have learned to "love her fiercely." And theater this fiercely loving is more than "enuf."
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