Review: For Colored Girls

Rinna Keefe 15 November 2012

For Colored Girls (who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf)

Fitzpatrick Hall, 11pm,until Sat 17 Nov

I came out of For Colored Girls with decidedly mixed feelings: this play is so nearly very good. The poetry, the acting, the dance and the music all flow seemingly effortlessly until, every so often, the audience is brought out of its trance with an unpleasant jolt.

For a start, if you’re putting on a play after 11pm you need a good, coherent structure. I sat through the first forty-five minutes absolutely spellbound; but then there was a song, and everybody wandered offstage laughing. The remaining three quarters of an hour felt superfluous. Not only that, but the final scenes were gratuitously violent.

This was a problem to some extent throughout the play. For Colored Girls uses twenty different poems to raise vitally important issues, and for the most part deals with them well. The poem describing rapists was terrifying and very moving. On the other hand, the story of an abusive boyfriend killing two young children moved beyond exposition into unhelpful torturing of the audience.

The different success of the two scenes was mainly marked by the language used. For Colored Girls can be absolutely fantastic poetry: Shange builds heart-stopping lines out of the most everyday words, and I scribbled down quote after quote. ‘I got to have me in my back pocket / to get around like a good woman should’ is definitely one of my new slogans! It was noticeable, then, that scenes such as the infanticide depended a lot more on dramatic staging, props and wordless weeping – to much less good effect.

There were also one or two moments where I couldn’t decide if the author was trying to imitate prejudice, or genuinely saying something unpleasant. I can’t have been the only person squirming uncomfortably during the diatribe about the spiritual barrenness of white people. Further, I’m not convinced by the idea of ‘reclaiming’ offensive language – it just sounds crude.

But whatever my quarrels with the script, I can’t fault the actresses. As individuals they were striking – I especially enjoyed Orange’s lightning-fast chatter, the natural yet poetic delivery of Purple, and the easy, elastic rhythms of Red’s lines. In combination, they were brilliant.

Quite often we would see one speaking while another danced or filled in for an external character. The lighting seemed to shift the colours of their clothes from poem to poem, and although this left me unclear on who was who, it vastly increased the depth of emotion. I actually rather liked the fluidity of the characters: each poem seemed to run into another, making the play both a catalogue of individuals and a history of Everywoman.

The tiny band – keyboard, drums and guitar – sat unobtrusively as almost part of the audience, but were really what made several scenes. The hauntingly repetitive keyboard and slouchy guitar riffs provided just the right background for the lengthy introduction of the characters, and the drums fit perfectly and terrifyingly into the monologue on pregnancy after rape. The songs were slightly more hit-and-miss, but I loved the musical number where each character described why her feelings were worth so much: ‘My love is too Saturday night to be thrown back in my face’.

Rinna Keefe