“I found God in myself, and I loved Her fiercely,” entones the entire cast in a redeeming conclusion to the problems set forth in the choreopoem, Bacchanal.
Director Thandi O. Parris ’02, along with members of the cast, composed the show by modifying portions of For Colored Girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The original text, penned by Ntozake Shange in the 1970s, traces the tribulations and triumphs of a black girl’s quest for love, affection, solidarity and affirmation.
Parris and cast tapered the individual poems to fit the personalities and the experiences of the cast members. The result is a play as colorfully bold as the vivid dresses donned by the seven actresses.
This vibrance is critical, for the play’s pertinent message could have been lost if the central concerns of rape, two-timing men, abortion and, most important, deliverance were presented in an exhaustive, ponderous manner.
Thankfully, Parris’ cuts create a fluid and captivating quality; the performance is coherent as well as powerful.
The first poem, “dark phrases,” opens with all seven actresses on stage and wrapped in a piece of gossamer fabric. Jazz music accompanies their moan-ridden laughter. A motif that recurs throughout the show emerges, as a black girl’s voice surfaces through the music.
At first, the effect is disorienting, almost off-putting. Nothing seems original, and the sights and sounds are reminiscent of a mental ward. But all quickly comes together as Naila B. McKenzie ’02, clad in purple, wove the discordant sounds into a colorful monologue. The audience is introduced into a world where women of color must take the daunting chaos that envelops them and fashion their own strong identities.
The scenes flow smoothly, one into another, with the actresses and the monologues complimenting each other. One of the evening’s truly remarkable gems, however, comes from the mini-play “no assistance.” Olamipe I. Okunseinde ’04, shrouded in blue, delivers the clever, empowering poem with clarity.
Easily able to hold the audience’s attention, she brings them with her on a brief yet circuitous rollercoaster through the hunger pangs of unrequited love.
In a satisfying conclusion, she tells the emotionally dishonest man who has monopolized her life that when she met him she started growing a plant that she has been watering ever since. Ending their relationship, she announces to him, “now, you may water it your damn self.”
Another noteworthy scene is McKenzie’s narrative “pyramid,” which is accompanied by a modern dance piece conceived by Shelby J. Braxton-Brooks ’03. The choreography and narrative, however, never quite click; each loses something from their simultaneous presentation, as the staging makes concentrating on both aspects impossible, and on a single one distracting.
The performance of Tatyana M. Ali ’02 in “no more love poems #4” is a vivid demonstration of her flexibility as an actress and of the play as a whole. The scene follows a woman who believes herself independent until a man breaks her heart. Resplendent in red, she ends the story with the powerful assertion, “my love is too delicate to be thrown back in my face.”
The chorus echoes this salient moral, elaborating on the idea by replacing the word delicate with other words, such as “sanctified,” “music” and “complicated.”
The actresses all portray the strength of discovering one’s own independence. An outstanding example of this is the monologue delivered by Kristy M. Johnson ’02, “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff,” in which she exclaims, “stealin’ my shit from me / don’t make it yours / makes it stolen.” Johnson, arrayed in orange, exhibits the sharp wit and comedic sensibility necessary to carry this poem respectably.
As a dramatic liturgy, Bacchanal is successful in presenting a problem, discussing it and resolving it with a sense of personal affirmation.