FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE / WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF by Ntozake Shange, directed by Andrew Moodie, with Pasha Mckenley, Patrice Goodman, Nicole Stamp, Andrea Scott, Cherissa Richards, Shannon Kitchings and Bridget Ogundipe. Presented by the coloUred girls' collective at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to August 29, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's pretty upsetting that a play about the struggles of urban black women and girls in the 1970s should be ruined - at least at the performance I saw on Sunday - by the cries of an infant. Moms and Dads, I'm all for introducing your kids to culture at an early age, but next time you want to save babysitting money, please consider the audience and performers. A ringing cellphone has nothing on a wailing kid.
Ntozake Shange 's Pulitzer Prize-winning choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is a tough enough piece to pull off under the best of circumstances.
Sensuous and erotic one minute, white-knuckle-dramatic the next, it changes moods and voices constantly, with dance, song and chanting.
This slightly edited remount of a fine production presented last year at the massive Hart House Theatre fits more intimately into the Passe Muraille Backspace, and a couple of high-wattage performers burn even brighter in the smaller space. But even without the crying, the show takes a while to find its bearings, and some sequences lack shape.
The piece opens effectively, with the near-classical evocation of a previously unexamined world - one that, since the play premiered on Broadway in 1976, has become better known thanks to writers like Gloria Naylor, Terry McMillan and da kink in my hair's Trey Anthony.
A spare, simple white sheet provides a backdrop for key dramatic moments, and Christine Plunkett 's two-tiered set helps set the seven characters (eight in the original), distinguished only by the colour of clothes they're wearing, apart.
Director Andrew Moodie and choreographer Suzanne Robert Smith use movement effectively, helping to give the storytelling a communal, universal feel.
The script has a patchwork-quilt quality, with some scenes more vivid than others. Cherissa Richards is charming as an imaginative schoolgirl dealing with integration in the 1950s, playing off the mischievous, rich-voiced Andrea Scott as her beau, while Pasha Mckenley is heartbreaking as she recounts how a trio of friends breaks up fighting over the same man.
While Patrice Goodman has problems with diction in her monologue about a woman having an abortion, she redeems herself later with a rant about the word "sorry."
But the strongest impression comes from Nicole Stamp and her character's tale of a single mom abused by her Vietnam-vet ex. Stamp knows how to play with mood and rhythm to get the maximum emotional effect from her horrific story.
Times and political interests have changed since the play premiered - there's nothing about miscegenation, lesbianism or middle-class life - but at its best this show proves that pain, friendship and survival are all timeless.