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THEATER REVIEW: ‘For Colored Girls’


The theater department at California State University, Fresno hasn’t been playing it safe recently. It kicked off the season with “T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common,” a play so new it included a Facebook joke. And it follows with an intense, demanding and altogether fierce 1975 classic, Ntozake Shange’s seminal “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” which finishes up its run Saturday.

This provocative turn by the department has made for some interesting theater — and perhaps a need for open-mindedness on the part of the audience. Make no mistake, “For Colored Girls” does not always come in an easily digestible narrative form.

This series of “choreopoems,” which all have to do with the struggles and obstacles faced by African-American women, are told in threads of prose, poetry, choreography and music. Some are nearly impenetrable on first listen. Others are all too shockingly clear.

Yet as we absorb these “poems” — which cover such wide-ranging issues as rape, the loss of virginity and child abuse, along with the humor and resilience of black sisterhood — the important thing when staging this play is for the emotional tones to ring true. The material is by turns raucous, unapologetic, caustic, enraged and poignant. Even with a cast whose members have varying levels of acting experience, director Thomas-Whit Ellis and choreographer Katrina Steward mostly succeed in finding that emotional intensity. The result is a sometimes bewildering but frequently potent theatrical experience.

Standouts in the nine-person cast include a regal and charismatic Brittney Caldwell as the Lady in Red, a strong Breayre Tender as the Lady in Blue, an intense Bryattani McGhee as the Lady in Green and a highly physical Deja Thompson as the Lady in Orange. But more important is the sense of ensemble created by all the cast members, which has its roots in the opening scene when they bunch together in a line that suggests a centipede. This camaraderie, which provides much of the humor in the play, is a warm counterbalance to the severity of much of the material.

“For Colored Girls” is tied to a specific era — you can almost see the graffiti-laced New York subway cars lumbering by — and as it focuses on black women in turbulent times, it becomes an interesting window on a history that didn’t receive much attention. But it’s striking how much feels universal in Shange’s text. In one of the strongest poetic moments of the entire work, the rape-scene selection, each woman repeats: “Nobody came ’cause nobody knew.”

That tale, unfortunately, could come from today’s headlines. But there’s catharsis in sharing the pain — and reflecting on a better future.

Responses to "THEATER REVIEW: ‘For Colored Girls’"

Stephen says:

From this review, I can’t tell at all if you liked it or not.

Which usually means you didn’t like it so much, but tried to find standout performers.

I’ve read it twice and still I’m not certain. I really enjoyed the show when I first saw it, but there were race riots going on in my small town at the time. I enjoyed it immensely when my home theater did it years later, but those were all some of the best actors in the area.

When Fresno State announced they were doing it I had the same feelings you did – whoo, boy. The themes are certainly universal for a certain culture, and certainly bear repeating, but yah, it’s a period piece for sure…like (unfortunately) The Color Purple or The Great Gatsby are now univeral-themed period pieces.

So? Did you like it or not? Cuz I can’t decide whether to go see it or not based on this review!

Lanny Larson says:

Donald nails the review. The performance is by turns challenging and funny and poignant and pointed. You don’t know what’s coming with each blackout between scenes, but after the first couple of them, you know it will be vibrant and on point. It’s a play you leave with admiration for the energetic presentation and with trepidation about how some things haven’t changed since this play debuted 36 years ago. It made me think that our own self-absorption with whatever challenges we face doesn’t allow much consideration of how we could help break that cycle. All that from a play? In this case, absolutely.

Heather P says:

Munro’s processing of the play is complex, much like the play itself. It may not be a play to be liked or disliked, but rather a play to be considered and experienced in as diverse ways as it is presented.

Perhaps, based on what Munro found worthy in the play, you could go and decide for yourself whether you “like” or “don’t like” it.

Lars says:

Mr. Munro’s review is thoughtful and addresses a piece that is difficult to explain. The night I was there I heard audience members a bit confused because the play is non linear, and often audiences want to know more about specific characters and their journeys; but, Shange seems to want these windows into the worlds of the women to be small, limited, merely glimpses. I am pleased that Mr. Munro didn’t say definitively whether he liked or didn’t like it. The piece is not to be liked, but to be experienced. I hope people will see the show and think about what is being said.