A heartfelt 'colored girls. . . '

March 24, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Director Amini Johari-Courts has dedicated her production of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf" at Arena Players to the memory of Samuel H. Wilson Jr., the theater's founder and artistic director, who died last month. The production is a strong tribute.

Besides the inventive, unconventional spelling, punctuation and lack of capital letters in the text and title of her powerful, feminist script of 1975, playwright Ntozake Shange wrote it in an inventive genre, which she called the "choreopoem." Johari-Courts acknowledges in her program notes that this genre grants a director a certain amount of creative freedom, and she uses that freedom to good advantage, faithfully adhering to the poetry of the piece while opening up the movement on stage, with an assist from choreographer Yvette Shipley-Perkins.

The expanded movement is primarily seen in the increased interaction among the cast of seven women -- beginning with their constant presence on stage throughout the intermissionless work. Though the performances are somewhat uneven, the stronger ones -- together with the tight, overall ensemble work -- more than compensate.

The play consists of about 20 poems, delivered by nameless characters, who are described solely by the colors of their dresses. But while their characters may be nameless in the program, Arena Players' actresses imbue most of them with distinct, memorable personalities.

As the "lady in brown," Toni Barber brings girlish enthusiasm to the tale of a precocious 8-year-old who fell in love with an 18th-century Haitian revolutionary, whom she met in the pages of a library book. In contrast, the spirited, defiant manner with which Loretha Myers' "lady in green" delivers the poem beginning "somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff" leaves no doubt she is talking about much more than possessions.

The script's most shocking passage is "the lady in red's" account of a woman named Crystal and the abusive, disturbed Vietnam vet who fathered her two children. Baltimore native Trazana Beverley won a Tony Award based largely on her forceful recitation of this in the Broadway production. Tackling the same material is a daunting prospect for any actress -- and would seem even more so at Arena Players, where Beverley has taught. Wynonia Rhock's approach comes closer to simple storytelling than re-enactment, but it is still gripping.

The ensemble sections of the show are also varied, although they all reinforce the sense of sisterhood in the text. In one section, which plays like a piece of choral one-upmanship, the actresses compare the lame excuses and apologies they've gotten from men. Another, which turns into a circle dance, features several proclaiming in turn, "my love is too beautiful [or 'delicate' or 'magic' or 'complicated' . . . ] to have thrown back in my face."

The final poem in "for colored girls" contains the lines: "i found god in myself/& i loved her/i loved her fiercely." At Arena Players, this verse evolves into an uplifting spiritual. But even the poems that are merely spoken seem to sing in this production.

"for colored girls . . . "

Where: Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St.

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; through April 9

Tickets: $12

Call: (410) 728-6500

***

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