The movement of the show has a fluid freedom that reminds me of a line Shange made about a show from a long time ago by Sun Ra in “Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance,” his posthumously published book: “The drummers made me want to take my clothes off and celebrate the world. This is how much Shange lived in his body, just like the women in these poems.
Although no actor takes their clothes off in “For Colored Girls,” Brown (who Shange interviewed for this book, by the way) has a tactile, inside-out understanding of how movement is integrated into the language of the play, inextricably . And as meticulous as Brown is about choreography and connection – replaced by stillness and isolation in the play’s poems of angst, to devastating effect – she is equally precise about textual lucidity and depth.
This includes comedy, as when Tendayi Kuumba’s Lady in Brown slips into the character of a bookish 8-year-old black man who, in the summer of 1955, conjures up an imaginary friend: Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture.
It’s a brilliantly funny interlude, and a reminder that this child – brimming with intelligence and specialness, and already looking for kindred spirits – deserves the world. That the world doesn’t cherish her as it should is one of Shange’s main points about all the women in “For Colored Girls.” Hence the enduring function of the piece as a source of comfort, affirmation and commiseration.
When the Lady in Red (Kenita R. Miller, eight months pregnant and resplendent in a peekaboo-belly) says to an undeserving male lover, “I’m ending this,” her detailed grievances bring us to her sides. – then she lands a terrific punchline. These actors, all of them, are hilarious at deflating male posture.
Yet “For Colored Girls” suffers from the tension between the desire for devotion, the desire for sex, and the need for dignity. Also the precariousness of preserving a sense of self – as the grief-stricken Lady in Green (Okwui Okpokwasili) discovers, thanks to “a lover for whom I made too much room”.