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A Special Spectrum

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange at the Shubert Theatre through Dec. 10

By Steven Schorr

FOR MOST American white men, the experiences of black women are as foreign to their existence as the Dead Sea scrolls. Too many men are unable or unwilling to understand how the exclusive social order which they have constructed inevitably frustrates the aspirations of those it excludes. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf poignantly expresses those frustrations. The play does so in a format so effective that one can hardly imagine anyone, black, white, male or female leaving the theater without hearing its cry and comprehending its message.

From the moment the seven-woman cast, clad in a brilliant spectrum of gowns, dashes energetically onstage, until the uplifting finale nearly two hours later, their continuously gripping performance lures the audience ever deeper into a complicated maze of cathartic emotions. Although the experiences that evoke these emotions are in many ways unique to blacks or women or black women, the universality of the feelings expressed enables the cast to transcend the dual barriers of race and sex and communicate not only with those who have been in similar positions, but also with those who never will.

The play communicates through theater's most expressive medium, poetry. Under the able direction of Oz Scott, every member of the talented cast delivers Ntozake Shange's rich verse with expert precision, rendering intricate rhythmic shifts with mellifluous ease. All seven actresses perform exquisitely, but one deserves specific attention. Trazana Beverley, who plays the Lady in Red (all characters are identified simply by the color of their dress), steals the show with her earthy humor and lusty sensuality. Slightly overweight and less attractive than her companions onstage, Beverley plays the buffoon most of the night, but "a nite with beau willie brown," her lengthy monologue, which essentially concludes the show, reveals the range of her talents.

"a nite with beau willie brown" crystallizes the anguish only hinted at elsewhere in the performance. The poem begins gently but ominously as Beverley describes her youthful involvement with Willie Brown and the two unwanted pregnancies that result. Brown abandons the woman but returns to her house one night, half-crazed, threatening the children and insisting that she marry him. Beverley, free of his domination and finally realizing her independence, resists his possessiveness. When Brown moves to assault her babies, she grabs a carving knife and keeps him at bay, but then she weakens, startled by her violence and softened by the smoldering memories of their love. She puts down the weapon and everything appears calm until Brown suddenly seizes her son, carries him to a window and threatens to drop the infant from the fifth-story apartment if she will not marry him.

Beverley plays this scene with vivid intensity. In the final moments, with her child dangling in the air, desperation molds her features. Her uncomprehending torment over the scene's inhuman conclusion chills the audience, plunging the theater into a hushed and telling silence. The message has reached home with stunning impact, transcending every barrier to understanding. Men, black and white, cannot fail to share her grief and understand, finally and forever, the wretched folly of their ego-driven attempts to dominate their sisters.

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