The Public Theater is reviving Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf which had its Off-Broadway premiere there. The 'choreopoem,' a phrase coined by Shange, hasn’t been seen in New York in over 40 years since it closed in 1978, after having moved to Broadway from The Public. Even though it’s been a staple on college campuses around the country and was turned into a TV special in 1982 and a movie by Tyler Perry in 2010. This exploration and celebration of black women and their American experience couldn’t come at a better time.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf is performed by seven women identified only by the color of their clothing; Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen), Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier), Lady in Orange (Danaya Esperanza) – the role originated by the playwright, Lady in Red (Jayme Lawson), Lady in Yellow (Adrienne C. Moore), Lady in Green (Okwui Okpokwasili) and Lady in Purple (Alexandria Wailes). It is a combination of poems that are performed mostly as monologues, interwoven with original music, songs and dances. The original production had 20 poems, this iteration has 23.
The play, or choreopoem, is an unflinching look at the racism and sexism faced by black women, and in some sense all women. Topics like rape, abortion and domestic abuse expose the uglier sides of the experience and though compelling, are moving and difficult to watch. But the point of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf is not simply to unmask the perils of being black and female in our society. It’s also a kind of map that says you don’t have to get to the end of the road. You don’t have to get to a place where there’s no more injustice. Just being the rainbow/yourself is enough.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf winds up being a celebration of all things black and female. It’s in the strength inherent in all the stories where women survive what happens to them. And it’s in the sense of self-worth gained in poems like “no assistance” where the woman who has been in a one-sided relationship for 8 months, two weeks and a day decides she’s had no assistance in the relationship and she needs no assistance in calling it off. The celebration is most definitely in Camille A. Brown’s exuberant choreography and the stunning performance of it by the incredibly talented and unselfconscious cast. The original music by Martha Redbone is at times haunting and at times joyous, and the costumes by Toni-Leslie James are absolutely brilliant. They are the embodiment of a rainbow and a literal celebration of the rainbow of women who are wearing them.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"Their individuality was always undeniable. But in their latest appearance on a New York stage, it’s clear that their combined strength is what has made these women so vital, so enduring. There are, technically, seven title characters in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange's milestone work of theater from the mid-1970s. But in Leah C. Gardiner’s loving, collective embrace of a revival, which opened Tuesday at the Public Theater, seven also equals one."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Atop a patinated brown floor encircled by a shuffled deck of mirrors, the Public Theater’s landmark revival of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf cracks open like a precious gem, flashes of insight cascading out as if by magic."
Naveen Kumar for Time Out New York
"Byrne surrounds himself with 11 accomplished musicians, six on percussion, and all dressed in identical gray suits and barefoot. And together they move about a stage surrounded on three sides by curtains of metal chains, creating a series of stage tableaux. Parson’s choreography is a crafty mix of low-impact rhythmic movement and marching band, an effect amplified by the fact that the musicians all tote their own instruments as they move about the stage. They sound terrific, which is another smart move because the 67-year-old Byrne, never the strongest vocalist, can warble a bit on sustained notes."
Thom Geier for The Wrap