Review: for colored girls… (Soulpepper)

Photo of the cast of For Colored Girls... by Cylla Von TiedemannThis striking performance blends poetry, music and movement, on stage in Toronto

I’ve never seen an audience rise to their feet as fast as they did for Soulpepper Theatre‘s production of for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf. As resonate now as it was in 1976, Director Djanet Sears and an exceptionally talented cast does a commendable job bringing this iconic and important production to the Toronto stage.

for colored girls... is created in the form of a choreopoem, “a wholly original fusion of words, music, and movement” developed by playwright Ntozake Shange. Through poetry and prose, choreography and song, a chorus of Black women who are only identified by the colour they wear, together and individually share stories of living in a world that spurns their very existence. for colored girls unabashedly explores issues of misogynoir and what my companion explained as “the particular experience of what it’s like to face rejection from not only others but also from your own community.”

The production is also a celebration of the art that provides a respite from their daily experiences of oppression and discrimination. Throughout the performance, the women of for colored girls speak passionately of the love and inspiration they take from dancing, music, and the words of famed 18th Century revolutionary Toussaint L’ Ouverture. Even the multidisciplinary nature of the play itself shows the variety of artistic pursuits that brings women joy and relief.

But what affected me the most was how the production portrayed the way the women supported one another. Many of the strongest scenes and transitions were the ones that included the entire cast. A particularly striking scene featured the cast moving chairs in unison as they talked about the unsympathetic societal perception of intimate partner violence. While only three performers speak in this scene, the sight of the cast sitting and moving in formation visually expressed their solidarity.

This artistic representation of sisterhood and the solace women seek in one another becomes even more visceral at the end when after giving a harrowing account of child abuse and domestic partner violence, the Lady in Red is literally supported and held up by the rest of the ensemble.

While I wasn’t sure how I felt about the minimalist design and seemingly loose direction of the monologues at first, I later realized that I was completely missing the point. Every element of the production was designed with the purpose of giving attention and agency to the performers, the words they spoke, and the movement of their bodies. The production design encouraged me to reflect upon the importance of directing unencumbered space, resources, and attention to a community that is often denied representation, agency, rights, and respect.

And the ensemble of Tamara Brown, Karen Glave, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, d’bi.young anitafrika, Akosua Amo-Adem, SATE, and Evangelia Kambites — all accomplished artists in their own right — certainly took full command of the stage. While there were a few moments at the beginning where the vocals lacked due to opening night nerves and certain performers seemed more comfortable with the poetic language than others, all the performances were largely spectacular and it was evident that the performers were intimately connected with the material and not only relished the opportunity to perform the stories but also to perform with each other.

The revolutionary language and style of for colored girls challenged my mind like no other play this season. Go see this powerful, complicated women’s work before it leaves the stage.

Details:

  • for colored girls… plays until May 31, 2017 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane).
  • Performances run Mondays to Saturdays at 7:30 pm with matinee performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1:30 pm. See schedule for more details.
  • Single tickets are $20-$89 and are available for purchase online, by telephone at 416.866.8666, or in person at the Young Centre Box Office Tuesday to Saturday 1-8 PM or one hour before the show.
  • Audience Advisory: The show has an approximate running time of 95 minutes with no intermission and deals with issues of rape and domestic abuse.

Photo of the cast by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

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