After 40 years, Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls remains a stunner | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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After 40 years, Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls remains a stunner

Court Theatre’s production is one of the highlights of the season.

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"I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely."

African-American feminist poet and playwright Ntozake Shange's most renowned work, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, now playing at Court Theater, is a spiritual experience. Shange described the work as a "choreopoem"; it fuses poetry, dance, music, and song to create a transcendent theatrical experience.

More than 40 years after it was first performed, for colored girls remains a stunning feminist interrogation of subjects like love, identity, infidelity, body image, and abuse with a nuance and specificity that modern media often boils down to the empty calories of "girl power." It's comprised of 20 powerful intertwining monologues, including meditations on the contradictory kindness of rapists, the claustrophobia of city living, society's near psychopathic value of emotionless rationality, and the hilariously pathetic apologies of disappointing men.

The play begins with a killer guitar solo by the outrageously talented Melody Angel, (who recently made her theatrical debut in the epic Father Comes Home From The Wars at the Goodman), and then shifts to a tableaux of seven black women, their Afros and curls gracing their heads like crowns. The Grecian courtyard set, designed by Courtney O'Neill, adds to the regal effect: it honors the words of ordinary women. Shange's text intentionally reflects the way that real women speak; she purposefully chose the word "colored" for the title so that her grandmother could understand it.

Director Seret Scott, who was part of the original Broadway cast, infuses the script with vitality, prescience, and universality by casting actors who are versatile enough to embody the broad range of perspectives in the script. This is a play for girls of all colors of the rainbow. Jubilant childhood patty-cake games like "Shortnin' Bread" delightfully morph into stepping. Later we are treated to traditional African dance and a heartbreaking contemporary solo by Leah Casey, whose movement expresses the pain of strong women who hide behind a facade so that the world will accept them.

It is impossible to overstate how talented this entire cast is. Patrese D. McClain gives a stellar and ebullient performance as an earnest young innocent in love with Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution. AnJi White is a chameleon, delivering two of the most powerful and radically different monologues of the night. The first explores the complexities of seduction and body image and asks, can this world love a plain black woman? The second describes a nearly unspeakable tragedy, heightened by haunting lighting design by Paul Toben.

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf is one of the top productions of this theater season. Shange's words cradle you and linger long after the final curtain. Laugh, cry, and be soothed by the full and beautiful soulful voices.

"Let her be born and handled warmly."   v

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