The FAMU Essential Theatre set the stage for triumph Wednesday with its season opener, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.”
The appearance of the theatrical classic on the Essential Theatre stage introduced the play to a new FAMU generation. And it was quite an introduction.
On opening night, the cast received an enthusiastic standing ovation – and for good reason. Colorful and energetic, the performances of the cast created characters that leapt off the stage and into the hearts of the audience. The performance was well-cast, well-acted, and extraordinarily well-directed.
The Essential Theatre production explores the issues of rape, self-identity, womanhood, coming of age, sexuality and abuse, providing both entertainment and education. Exploring the experiences of seven black females, this play truly “sings a colored girl’s song”.
The play’s cast, a group of talented theatre students, includes Lashawnda Batts, Keesha Carter, Brittany Johnson, Altovise Laster, Lori Rollins, Chanel White, and Sirelle Wilkerson.
“for colored girls” is a combination of poetry, movement, prose, dance and song. Composed of monologues and interactive scenes, the play calls for a versatile, complimentary cast.
These women were a striking ensemble, each performing monologues and acting as vibrant background, interpreters and confidants throughout the play. All of the actors’ performances were strong, deliberate, and memorable.
Lashawnda Batts’ performance is one example. As “lady in brown,” Batts delivered an enchanting performance of the “Toussaint” poem. The piece related an adventure of a precocious 8-year-old girl and her first encounter with black pride and young love. Batts’ versatility and approach to the charming character offered the audience an unexpected treat.
The performance of “Lady in red” Erin Washington also deserves mention. Washington’s moving performance of the famed “a nite with beau willie brown” poem was nothing short of dynamic. She infused the piece, which explores the issue of abuse, with new life and delivered it with the freshness and intensity of a seasoned professional. The freshman is truly one to watch in coming years.
The actors aren’t the only ones who stood out. The beauty and seemingly effortless flow of the play was a testament to the talent of the production staff as well. From the director and choreographer to the costumer, set designer, and stage manager, this production was finely orchestrated.
The result is a colorful dramatic palette and the creation of a theatrical experience that offers the rhythm of dance and the complicated harmonies of a jazz masterpiece.
Ntozake Shange’s award-winning “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” has been credited with changing the face of black theater and forcing the mainstream to sit up and take notice.
The choreopoem is a unique and collaborative piece that combines poetry, song, prose, and dance to tell the stories of “colored girls” seeking self-actualization.
In the years following its debut, however, the play has often been subject to harsh criticism, satirized remakes, and trite interpretations by ill-equipped casts.
The Essential Theatre production, however, under the skilled direction of Valencia Matthews, has transcended these burdens magnificently by pursuing a new approach. The result is a timely ode to black womanhood that speaks to both men and women. While it explores many painful issues, the play is a celebration of hope, redemption and strength.
If you must miss one Essential Theatre Production this season, don’t let it be this one.