Sunday, September 23, 2018

MUST SEE: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf

Lush. Lavish. Generous. Honest. Humbling. 

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra's website

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I try to describe the full circle experience that is the Penumbra's latest show, Ntozake Shange's seminal for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (for colored girls).

The show begins with three young girls (the future) as they sit on a playground. Their hangout crescendos to a delightful copy of Beyonce's Homecoming performance at Coachella (which got the audience to erupt into applause), at which point the rainbow women come in. Somewhere between a beneficent spirit or fairy godmother, the rainbow women describes a riveting range of women of many races, colors, shapes, hairstyles, tones and personalities who watch over the young girls. They then take turns telling stories familiar to women all over the world and specific to women of color - stories of heartbreak, childbirth, sexual awakenings, sexual violence, fear, strength, confidence, movement and so much more. It's a breathtaking display of the feminine experience and a striking visual that stays with you long after the show ends. This is the first time I've ever seen for colored girls and I always wondered if the rainbow part was a little gimmicky. I'm ashamed now that I ever had that thought, because the full bore strength of seeing this true rainbow of women and the power of their performances is stunning and undeniable. It's a brilliant way to celebrate the differences that already exist between us and show how they can blend into harmony.

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra's website

I'm honestly not sure how to even describe the cast - they are all so different and work so beautifully in tandem that it surely cheapens the show to somehow divide them up. I do, however, want to give each of them individual props for their stunning performances - so here is a small slice of my thoughts:

  • Lady in Red: I've only seen Audrey Park in a couple of other shows, and I definitely need to seek her out more. In addition to rocking an unbelievably fabulous haircut (#truestory), she has a lithe athleticism that brings so much energy to her monologues. Her energy definitely matched her color as the Lady in Red. 
  • Lady in Orange: Cristina Florencia Castro has been acting and writing in the Twin Cities for a long time, and I'm ashamed to say this is the first time I think I've seen her in a show. She brings a raw, open-hearted emotion that moved her (and the audience) to tears as she performed. Brilliant. 
  • Lady in Yellow: Rajan√© Katurah Brown is fresh out of college and already becoming a formidable performer on #tctheater stages. I've seen her in a couple shows at the Children's Theater, but this was the first time I've seen her really take wing on her own. She gives a sexy, physical performance that riveted me from her first monologue, and she exudes complete and total confidence at all times. Keep an eye on this one. 
  • Lady in Green: What more can I say about my love for Sun Mee Chomet? She's been a favorite of mine for years, and this performance is a perfect example why. On this stage of colorful, profound performances and fierce actresses, she still stood out - even going so far as to bring the audience into her final solo piece and getting a spontaneous ovation in the middle of the show. Chomet has a kinetic, can't-look-away energy that grabs you immediately and never lets go. 
  • Lady in Blue: I waxed poetic about how much I adored Khanisha Foster's delicious Joy Rebel at the Penumbra last year, and I would happily do so again. She clearly inhabits this material and brings a softer, wiser perspective to her monologues. It's easy to see how she's a great mentor for the other young actresses on stage, and her presence really grounds the show. 
  • Lady in Purple: Am'Ber Montgomery is also relatively new to me and another magnetic stage presence. She comes in quietly like a panther, slowly building her performance until she has you totally in her power by the end of the show. She has a grounded physicality and a tempered delivery that I really enjoyed. 
  • Lady in Brown: Ashe Jaafaru is another woman who's been around for a while and I've somehow missed - not again. Her sinuous performance is the definition of movement, and she slithers and slides throughout her monologues. She has an extremely expressive face that shows every emotion, and I really enjoyed getting to know her. 

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra's website

There's not a lot of traditional "production value" here, which is smart - it keeps the focus on the gorgeous narrative coming from our rainbow of performers. Vicki Smith's set is essentially a multi-layered set of sheer panels. The women pass between them like ghosts in between each monologue, and with the subtle lighting by Kathy Maxwell we get the full color spectrum and a deceptively wide range of effects despite the simple setting. My favorite element had to be Mathew LeFebvre's costume design, which puts each woman in a distinctive jumpsuit matching the color of her character. The vibrant tones are incredibly striking on the otherwise subdued palate of the set, and I was green with envy at how stylish and comfortable each jumpsuit looked. The Penumbra should definitely think about selling those online! They are so flattering and truly made me wonder why all women's clothing can't be like that. Drea Reynolds gives us a solid sound design that lets every word be heard throughout the ebb and flow of the show's energy. And I loved the singular choreography by Ananya Chatterjea. I don't have the right words to describe the movement in for colored girls, but it has a supple quality that I just loved. From crawling like a leopard to joyous dance sequences to sensual celebrations of curves and femininity, the choreography truly enhances the full-throated experience of this show.

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra's website

Director Sarah Bellamy clearly approached for colored girls with so much love and care, and in her stewardship it crescendos to a glorious and instructive celebration of women of color. There are so many gems to be found in this rich text, and I can't think of a better show to uplift in our #metoo era than this one. So often the problems we face in society can be solved simply by being better listeners, and if there's one lesson in for colored girls it's just that: listen to women of color, celebrate their experiences, and help them with what they ask for. for colored girls is a moving, generous, delicious slice of humanity that will hold anyone in its grace. I think it's a must see show, especially in our current cultural moment, and especially with this powerhouse cast of young actresses who are poised to take the world of theater by storm. This really is a lovely show and the kind of thing we should be better at uplifting - so please click here to get more information and to buy your tickets before for colored girls closes on October 14.

**As another note: the Penumbra always puts together spectacular study guides for each show. The study guide for for colored girls is a particular gem; learn more by clicking here to read it

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra's website

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