FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF, Journeymen, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Ntozake Shange's 1976 "choreopoem" assembles seven "colored girls" (Lady in Orange, Lady in Purple, etc) who testify to the struggles that made them strong. A stirring ensemble piece, this 80-minute collage of poetry, movement, and song allows each woman to "sing her song of life," derived from experiences of rape, selfish lovers, cultural dislocation, hot sex on graduation night, and disillusionment. The special strength of the Journeymen's staging, by Michael Matthews and Frank Pullen, is the purposeful connection between the performers, created out of sincerity and communal concentration. Ebony Smith's choreography confirms that solidarity.
Jeanne Hargraves brings a dignity that can't be faked to the Lady in Purple, who tells the story of how three women help each other overcome their love for one very wrong man. LeShay Tomlinson is delightful as a schoolgirl with a crush on Haitian liberator Toussaint-Louverture. Sardia delivers a soul-shaking recitation of the angry lament "Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff." And DeAnna C. Williams scornfully confesses, "I used to live in the world but then I moved to Harlem." Most moving is Lybia V. Pugh, a powerful performer who holds the audience hostage with her harrowing account of a father's vicious attempt to reclaim an estranged girlfriend.