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for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (Soulpepper). At the Young.
for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to June 3. $32-$89. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNNN
There have been a couple of fine local productions of Ntozake Shanges Pulitzer Prize-winning choreopoem before, but none has hit as hard as this one, directed by Djanet Sears, a playwright and teacher who knows a lot about hard-hitting drama herself.
Written 40 years ago, Shanges play about seven Black women living in various U.S. cities feels as fresh and relevant as ever. If anything, the popularity of dub poetry and rap has made the richness of the language even more accessible. And one harrowing section about date rape feels as if it could have been written last week.
There have been some updates. I doubt the section about a woman contracting HIV from her (on the DL) boyfriend was in the original, and the plays climactic sequence, in which an abused woman tries to protect herself and her children from her Vietnam vet boyfriend has been altered so that the man has fought in Baghdad.
But these are minor changes to a work that has always felt universal. From the Lady in Browns (Tamara Brown) charming tale of the bookish girl who discovers a kick-ass literary role model at the same time that she discovers boys, to the disturbing sequence in which the Lady in Blue (SATE) feels her Harlem neighbourhood crushing her, there are all shades of urban life and experience in here.
Sears ensures stories flow naturally into each other, and the movement by choreographers Jasmyn Fyffe and Vivine Scarlett helps establish scenes but also characters. Astrid Jansons set, which includes a curving ramp that looks precarious to walk on in its upper regions, at first seems cumbersome. But, lit by Michelle Ramsay, it gains meaning as the play progresses, especially when the Lady in Yellow (Karen Glave) is contemplating taking her life, a scene Ive never seen more effectively staged.
It feels churlish to single out performances in such a strong ensemble, but Akosua Amo-Adems monologue about a woman whose man has temporarily robbed her of dignity is full of passion, sass and heartbreak, while Ordena Stephens-Thompson is exquisite narrating the tale (with a bit of homoeroticism?) of an exotic woman and telling the story of how a man breaks up three womens friendship.
dbi.young anitafrika, no slouch in the poetry department herself, brings a unique take on the shows penultimate story. While shes intense and magnetic, she could begin in a quieter way so theres a stronger arc.
But thats quibbling. This essential production should introduce a whole new generation of theatregoers to this masterpiece.