I admit it. I just turned 40 and up until two days ago, I had never seen or read For Colored Girls…. Never. Not the book. Not the Play. Not even the movie. But I now feel redeemed. In the intimate setting of Howard University’s Environmental Theatre Space, I saw, no, I experienced the play for the first time. From the deep, soulful opening solo sung by sophomore Naarat Jacobs to the passionately performed spoken word pieces, Howard University’s performance of For Colored Girls… is lively storytelling at its best.
While the focus is on women and healing from their past, this is not a rap session of women feeling sorry for themselves. It is an experience. A chance to feel their pain, experience their joy and celebrate their triumphs.
What is it like being a black girl in America? Ntozake Shanges’ play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enough, gives an up close and personal look. Written by Shange in the seventies, For Colored Girls... has enraptured audiences for over 30 years. It comes right from the heart and soul of black women and features seven women vividly recounting good times, sex, relationships, domestic abuse, and rape. The chorepoem, a combination of poetry, music and movement, is an oral history of the everyday woman coming to terms with the trials and triumphs of womanhood.
Director LA Williams and the cast of Howard students masterfully take the audience through the full spectrum of emotions in an entertaining yet compelling way. “It’s really about these women going on a journey and really healing through it all – through the anger, through the happiness, through the laughter and that’s really what it’s about,” says Williams, “It’s a journey of healing….That has always been the goal of this production.” He handled Shange’s work with care and thoughtfulness. Using a set designed by Michael C. Stepowany, the director choose a rustic, outdoorsy backdrop with goal of bringing the audience in touch with the raw and healing power of nature.
The cast presents a rainbow of characters and personalities in seven shades, each representing a voice demanding to be heard in a world where a black woman’s voice has been often been muted. Soneka Anderson as Lady in Brown, captivates the audience and exudes a confidence beyond her years in the first spoken word piece. Dorothea DeWitt’s (Lady in Red) intense recount of domestic abuse is a simply spectacular. Lauren E. Banks’ (Lady in Blue) emotional and vulnerable performance mesmerized the audience while Aurie Ceylon (Lady in Yellow) renders a delicately beautiful solo in which she laments a love lost. Nedra Snipes (Lady in Orange) delivers a powerful performance as she portrays a woman struggling with the right to own her emotions.
The production has its light moments, too. Chelsea Fobb’s (Lady in Purple) funny and vivid portrayal of a young woman enamored with a legendary hero had the audience laughing out loud. And Zakiyia Gray’s brassy-sassy performance of Lady in Green was stellar. The staging and dance pieces choreographed by Kayah Franklin and assistant choreographers Burgundi Baker and Christen Williams also keep the piece light and energetic – which is a refreshing reprieve from what can be at times an emotionally intense experience.
Howard University’s passionate production is a moving and entertaining experience with a finale that becomes a jubilant celebration of womanhood. Whether you are seeing For Colored Girls… for the first time or you have seen it several times, you will be moved immensely.