FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE / WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF by Ntozake Shange, August 19-29 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). See listings, page 66, for details. Rating: NNNNN
Pasha McKenley's resumé is just about as multi-hued as it can get. Dora-nominated last year for her work in Petra, in July's Fringe she riveted audiences as a Sumerian goddess in Inanna. Now the actor/comic is both producer and performer in a remount of Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.
Shange dubbed her 1976 piece a choreopoem, a combination of poetry, music and song that looks at the lives of seven black women - each identified only by a colour of the rainbow - as they own their history and find self-affirmation in a North American society that regularly demeans them.
Presented at Hart House in 2003, the production so excited its performers that they've formed a collective to give the show another life.
"The material is 30 years old and full of American references," admits Mckenley, "but we were overwhelmed by the people in their 20s who were moved by what they'd seen."
She and the other cast members realized that a whole generation of women had never heard of Shange's raw, honest, sometimes humorous piece, and that it's still relevant.
"The script captures the plain-spoken quality I find in black American women," says Mckenley. "The writing is unapologically frank. We've decided to leave all the 70s musical references in place. We're true to the way music informed and shaped that society. We've kept that setting without making everyone look like Foxy Brown."
This time around, the company is working with a male director, Andrew Moodie.
"As women, we focus on one way of understanding or interpreting a scene, especially those that deal with men," says Mckenley, who plays the Lady In Purple. "Andrew brings in a guy's point of view and gives us levels to play on."
She laughs as a sudden thought strikes her.
"I guess he's giving out all the secrets that men have in their interactions with women."