With each character identified only by their spot on the visible spectrum, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf offers a prismatic look at the perils and perseverance of womanhood.
During rehearsals for the Piccolo production of Ntozake Shange’s celebrated work, Art Forms and Theatre Concepts Inc. artistic director Arthur Gilliard took the time to ask his seven leading women what their roles meant to them. What he found was a full spectrum of answers, demonstrating just how resonant Shange’s work remains more than 40 years after its premiere.
The Lady in Purple feels royal, an esteem she earned after surviving years of trials and tribulations. The Lady in Red is consumed by passion brought on by the intensity and strength with which she fought for what she has. Young and innocent, the Lady in Blue gives herself over to feelings of melancholy and sadness. Green succumbs to anger and frustration brought on by years of abuse. Yellow lives a carefree life until she contracts HIV. Brown compares herself to fire and ice, looking back on unfilled potential. The Lady in Orange on the other hand finds humor to be a strength, breeding a confidence that things couldn’t always be so bad.
This Piccolo production stars Ketrena Kirkland, Demetria Johnson, Alisa Locke, Trinvella Wizzard-McKinnon, Saralyn Ortiz, Michelle Warren, and Stella Williams. Together, the stories told by these women are interwoven in a work that blends choreography and poetry to create a collage of confessions and pleas that are once again all too relevant in the present day.
“It seems like Ntozake was really feeling the pulse of what we’re feeling right now also. We’re feeling the exact same thing now,” says Gilliard, who immediately recognized the importance of listening to his female cast. “Obviously, the #MeToo movement was a major influence. It affirmed my choice of the play because I made the selection much earlier … It was time for us to highlight some of the challenges that women have faced, have had to endure.”
Perhaps there is no more timely a work to bring to the stage than for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Offering a unique voice to women of color, the production allows a chorus of female performers to acknowledge their pain, suffering, and anger, but also demonstrate that they’ve remained in charge of themselves. What may be most striking for new audiences of Shange’s work is that the issues pointed out during the play’s premiere in 1976 are decidedly similar to the struggles that stretch back to the nation’s birth and have been pushed into the spotlight in recent months.
“Black women were abused since slavery. All someone had to say was ‘Bring that girl over here’ and they would carry out their business. The exact same thing happened through generations,” says Gilliard. “But this to me seems like one of the first times that they have felt the freedom to, en masse, express themselves.”
Lifting up the voices of those who have been shamed and silenced for so long has been the crux of the #MeToo movement. At the same time, this has always been the goal of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Maybe now the lessons learned from these women will stick. Maybe now, they will resonate with those who have turned a deaf ear.
“If we would just show some empathy to people in general and show a little respect. Everybody has feelings, but they all don’t know how to express those feelings. I don’t care if it’s a relationship or whatever, you have to remember that there is someone else involved in it,” says Gilliard. “Just be considerate. I think that’s the most you can ask for right now. The women today who are going through the #MeToo movement, they didn’t have to go through that. If we had just been considerate and remembered that they’re human, they have feelings, no means no, it’s as simple as that.”