I fell in love with theatre back in the 1960’s when, as a kid, I saw "Marat/Sade" at the Rep. I have just now seen perhaps the single most moving, powerful piece of theatre since those days 50+ years ago.
UMSL’s production of this award-winning play by Ntozke Shange is superb. No, it’s beyond that. But let me explain the piece first.
FCG, if you will allow me an acronym, has been called a “choreopoem” and aptly so. It consists of 20 poems, each relating a poignant aspect of life’s experience for many African-American women, unfortunately often painful, at times terribly tragic. If that were all, that would be enough. As one audience member said afterwards, “Every African-American girl should see this play.” Indeed, as I would say, every one, of any color, culture or gender, should see this play.
Alas it closed Sunday. And to my great good fortune, I was allowed to review it.
The Lee theatre at The Touhill, where the play was performed, was configured into a ¾ thrust stage. The space has always felt intimate to me but this configuration made it far more so. The poems are woven together with dance, music (live drumming), light, all in the most simplistic of sets: a white floor, a white backdrop, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing more was needed. The acting, the telling of the tales, was so dynamic, so moving and powerful ... I do not know if there was a dry eye in the packed house, but my own weren’t. Big boys aren’t supposed to cry but this one fought back tears more often than I care to confess.
Let me give you one example. Lady in Red – all the characters are simply known by their colors, the color of their costumes – recants the tale of the death, the tragic, horrible death of her two children at the hands of their father. As the actress (I will name them all in order later) slowly climbed to the climax of her piece, she began to cry. The tears grew more intense, more heart-rending. When she concluded, she was a broken woman – but the play wasn’t over. Another scene ensued. And then came the finale with the curtain call. As this consummately fine actress faced the audience to bow, she was still in tears. Her heart was broken. And this wasn’t acting ... this was her heart, her soul, laid bare on UMSL’s stage. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “they left it all out there.” They did. The seven actresses of FCG left themselves, heart and soul, on that stark, white set. And I will never forget them. Not all were individually as accomplished as others but, as an ensemble piece, which this truly is, they were fantastic.
Before I go further, I must name them. They each deserve recognition:
Lady in Brown – Aranesha Jackson, UMSL student, psychology major.
Lady in Red – Tierra K. Brown, UMSL student, media studies major.
Lady in Yellow – Alexandria Johnson, UMSL student, theatre and dance major.
Lady in Orange – Shonell Watkins, UMSL student, theatre and dance major.
Lady in Blue – Kimberly Phillips, UMSL student, theatre and dance major.
Lady in Green – Lashunda Gardner, UMSL alumna.
Lady in Purple – Brittnee Bell, UMSL alumna.
One of the first questions asked during the post-show feedback was when will this play be done here again?
Unfortunately for us in St. Louis, there isn’t an answer. But talks are underway for the show to travel to other cities so that other audiences can experience the power and magic of this beautiful production.
Kudos to all of the following for bringing this dynamic, dramatic piece to us:
Jacqueline Thompson, UMSL faculty, Director and Music Design; Andrea Peoples, Choreography
Felia Davenport, UMSL faculty, costumes, for such beautifully hand-painted skirts and dresses;
Glen Anderson, UMSL faculty, set and projection manager;
and Marty Casey, acting coach, who drew such power, beauty, feeling out these seven fine actresses.
One minor issue was late seating. While it is understandable that house management did not want to turn anyone away – and we did change our clocks Sunday, perhaps causing some a bit of confusion – the continual stream of late arrivals was at times quite distracting. And, as one might expect, some of the biggest disruption occurred at one or two of the most poignant moments of the show. Relatively speaking, this was a minor wrinkle in an otherwise brilliantly woven fabric of theatre.
"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf" ran from Oct. 31 thru Sunday, Nov. 3.