For Colored Girls is uplifting, for any audience
Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company is performing For Colored Girls Who have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. Playing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the show runs through Sunday.
Based on a book by the same title, the play is directed by John Amplas. Colored Girls’s 90-minute run time makes it a “choreopoem,” as described by the author, Ntozake Shange. Fusing poetry with song and modern dance, Colored Girls presents an exploration of the African-American experience through a woman’s eyes.
Debuting on Broadway in 1976, Shange’s work has merited praise for its focus on and brutally honest presentation of the struggles of African-American women throughout the 1960s. Much of the material is taken from Shange’s own background of growing up in a racially segregated city.
Topics explored through poetry are ones of racism, divorce, rape, and an eventual attempt at suicide. Although largely bleak and admittedly depressing in its material — reminiscent of a cross between a Richard Wright novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s hopelessness — Colored Girls thankfully infuses humor into its more light-hearted topics, such as young love, in order to relieve the audience members of their face-to-face with unadulterated reality.
Colored Girls is not character driven per se. Its poems are presented by actresses in the roles of “Lady in [color name].” Cast members are Point Park Univeristy students: Leah Williams as Lady in Purple, Tyrena Barrows as Red, Kelsey Robinson as Blue, Da’Minique Williams as Green, and Brittany Bradley as Orange. Mallory Green is — somewhat counterintuitively — Lady in Brown.
Appropriately minimalist in the stage setup and costume design, Colored Girls focuses the audience's attention on the story. Dressed in white, each actress recites her piece, accompanying it with song and an African-infused dance. The stage is essentially empty, decorated with tribal designs.
Each actress presents a story, whether domestic violence or depression, that explores the pain (and joy) of growing up black in America. Although certainly relevant prior to the civil rights movement, many of the themes reverberate through contemporary society and are faced by women regardless of their skin color.
Colored Girls presents the strength of young women in the face of despair. The bleakness and negative characteristics of life that eventually lead to a suicide attempt should surprise only the most naïve. The ultimate message is one of hope, an unlifting tale of learned wisdom and acquired courage.