I went to see Ntzake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, presented by Ringplay Productions and directed by Nicolette Bethel, at the brand new Black Box Theatre at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts in Nassau on Friday night. How could I miss it? I wanted to see this seminal womanish work performed at last, and thrilled that my old pal Nicolette Bethel was directing. I was also excited to see the new theatre space, the Black Box. I invited Chrissy Love to come along with me and I went completely prepared to love the show.
And I did love it. For many reasons.
First of all, I love the Black Box. Sprung up behind the dear old Dundas like a miracle, it provides a new kind of theatre experience for Nassauvians. This is theatre in the round. There is no stage, or rather, none that is separate and apart from you. The audience encircles the stage. In fact, you are on the stage with the players. When you take your seat you realize, you are in the play. The actors dance and fly around the room, in and out of doors all around you, and sometimes they come right up to you till they are inches away, they look in your eyes and you feel like you are supposed to say something. The Black Box provides a wonderfully unnerving, exhilarating new theatre experience for our town. Under Nicolette’s inspired direction and Lawrence Carroll’s impeccable choreography the cast inhabited the entire space, creating a stage all around us, just as we circled round the stage. For ninety minutes (was it really that long?) we were cast headlong into Ms. Shange’s mélange of poetry, dance and music and at the end we emerged feeling all the feelings she intended us to feel. I’m certain that Nicolette, the cast and the entire production team were assured on opening night that this non-traditional play is the perfect inaugural piece for the Black Box.
I know this is a play about race and gender, or rather, racism and misogyny, but to me it is a song about womanish pain. Not about getting over the pain, or healing the pain, or looking on the bright side of the pain, or noble lessons learned from the pain, or being grateful for the pain, or naming the pain anything other than pain. Seems to me the writing is asking us to feel the pain. To hold steady and feel it. To be a witness to it, and to share in the pain, the kind colored girls feel. I believe Ms. Shange seeks to break open your cold, dead heart, shock it back to bloody beating again with this play. She means to yuck up our deepest emotions, the main one being compassion, for ourselves and for other women as we navigate this misogynist, racist, patriarchal world. I got the feeling she is saying, among other things, that the fearless act of telling the painful truths about women’s lives, as well as the brave act of witnessing those truths, are exactly the acts that empower us to continue to seek and create our womanish liberation and joy.
The ensemble cast features seasoned performers Claudette Allens (Lady in Red)
and Theresa Moxey Ingraham (Lady in Yellow), as well as new talents Michaela Forbes (Lady in Green), Myra McPhee (Lady in Blue) and Aleah Carey (Rainbow) and rising stars Onike Archer (Lady in Purple), Arthellia Isaacs (Lady in Brown) and Erin Knowles (Lady in Orange). The play calls for each to speak and dance their color into a single prism that shines a multicoloured light “on what it means to live full, joyful lives in a world plagued with racism, sexism, cruelty and violence.” The cast achieves this objective beautifully, delivering a cohesive performance that will break your hearts, lift your spirits and open your minds to think differently and anew about the womanish experience in these difficult times. Seeing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf at the Black Box will also change your mind about what it means to see a play in Nassau. Prepare to be a changed person when you emerge from this show.
I am profoundly grateful to Philip Burrows, Nicolette Bethel and Ringplay Productions for the Black Box and for choosing this play for the inaugural production. I believe what they say, that “theatre saves lives.” I can now say, I’ve been saved. You can be saved too. The play is on again July 24 to 26.