Though the show does not follow a typical arc, the stories complement each other to deliver a unified experience that is at once singular and shared. We hear a variety of individual stories but we sense a community of women; at times a unified and harmonious voice, at times filled with dissonance and distrust.
The large stage at the Missouri History Museum is bare, and the musical accompaniment and lighting design tightly controlled, adding depth and nuance without distraction. This simplicity of design pushes the actresses to keep the show moving. The energy ebbs and flows from bold and cacophonous to hushed and still, as if instinctively creating space for each storyteller to step into the spotlight.
The excellent cast commands attention at every turn, and the mix of voices, rhythms, and movement create a colorful and complex patchwork. Each actress has a singular moment, creating a warm and welcoming performance that invites the audience in and guides them from story to story. The transitions have a natural, seamless flow and the narratives are filled with colorful description and honest reactions. There's pain and regret, lessons learned and love lost; but there's also an abundance of joy and laughter.
A delicate balance of engagement and connection is needed for nonlinear storytelling to succeed -- if the stories become too confusing or the movements overwhelming, the audience will feel lost and uncertain. The Black Rep's production, directed by Ron Himes, seizes the momentum from the opening number to closing refrain and keeps the show clearly focused.
Color distinguishes the various characters from each other, while also creating the rainbow referenced in the title, and the Lady in Brown bookends the show. She provides the set up and resolution that connects the stories and the women, but there is no lead in this true ensemble production.
Patrese McClain, as the Lady in Brown, and Marsha Cann, as the Lady in Blue, provide the pillars on which the show is built -- they remain tall, firm and fierce, even when standing in the shadow of innocence. They stand proud with a sense of confidence and purpose that's earned by their verses, but they are not afraid to show vulnerability.
Linda Kennedy is fiery and sharp as the Lady in Red. Her movement and verbal prowess, as well as the interaction with the other women, creates a center around which other stories are shared. She teases and cajoles, then firmly demands respect, without missing a beat. Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is regal and wise, as befits the Lady in Purple, her head held high in any circumstance. She embodies wisdom and confidence without losing spirit.
Evann De-Bose is lyrical and hopeful, her voice clear and true as the Lady in Orange. Andrea Purnell infuses the Lady in Green with quick wit while Chelsea Draper's Lady in Yellow rounds out the cast with a lithe grace. These three actresses each create a sense of possibility and purpose moving forward. The seven actresses together bring the sisterhood full circle.
"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" is an artful combination of music, movement and the spoken word. Moments build to a crescendo of joyful exuberance, then come crashing down in despair and abuse. Strength and fortitude clamor for affection; tender mercy begs to linger. In the end, the energy of the show matches the poetic sensibility of the dialogue, creating a wave of experience and emotion that pours over the audience.
This production of The Black Rep's 37th season is performed at the Missouri History Museum. For reservations or more information, please visit www.theblackrep.org.