Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remembering For Colored Girls

Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, was the play that defined the 70s for me. I was just becoming a woman, had recently celebrated my 25th birthday, when it hit New York. My friends and I had never seen anything like it on stage before. Seven Black actresses, in ever shade from café au lait to dark chocolate, sashshayed across the stage in costumes reminiscent of Ailey’s Revelations, expressing in vivid and powerful language details of failed relationships. Although some critics thought it was negative portrayal of Black men, they missed the point. It spoke of the bad choices many Black women of our generation made until we, like the women in the piece, learned to love ourselves fiercely.

When the Public Theatre held auditions for the road show, every dramatic Black actress in my age range was hoping to get a role. I made to second callbacks for the Lady in Yellow and experienced jealousy, for the first time, when my then-friend, LaTanya Richardson, was cast as the Lady in Red.

I was surprised at how many details I remembered, from the performances I saw, when a friend told me that they were reviving the piece. Risë Collins, the Lady in Purple, moving across the stage with the grace of Judith Jamison in “Sechita.” My friend Laurie Carlos’ ultimate sass in “Sorry” that was equally matched with poignancy in another poem where she talked about the “dying, dangling between her legs.” Aku Kadogo, the Lady in Yellow, assuming a wicked walk for “Graduation Night,” so her friends wouldn’t know that she was the only virgin in the crowd. And Trazana Beverley’s impeccable timing on the refrain, charming, charming, as she talked about the lover who only called in the middle of the night.

I had assumed they were reviving the play when I went online to get details and was disappointed to learn that my least favorite director, Tyler Perry, was reinterpreting Colored Girls for the screen. It is impossible not to respect Mr. Perry’s accomplishments. He has made a series of highly successful movies—has made a fortune while providing employment for a multitude of Black actors. Although there’s a vast audience for Mr. Perry’s films, he doesn’t make the kind of movies I enjoy. Admittedly, I’ve only seen a couple. I’ve assiduously avoided those that veered toward slapstick or the ones where Mr. Perry appeared in drag. Why the hell didn’t he hire an actress? These weren’t comedy sketches for Saturday Night Live.

It stretches my credulity to think that the same director who creates stereotypical, somewhat farcical characters in his movies can handle the complexities of Shange’s women. And I don’t understand why he’s including men or why most of the actresses he’s cast are significantly older than the original cast. But each generation interprets life differently and Tyler definitely has his finger on the pulse of today’s popular Black culture. Maybe the movie that I’d love wouldn’t appeal to today’s 20-somethings. Perhaps he’ll surprise me and create something I’ll respect. But if not, a new generation will get to hear Ntozake’s amazing poems. I think she’s the wordsmith of my generation.

1 comment:

  1. Hey.............that was beautifully written and so in tune with what I have been thinking about over the last few days, as I recently read something that quoted a character in the play and realized I have never seen it and wished I could and now more than ever. In fact I wish I was black and therefore could dare to direct it. Gayle