Theater at its most profound

The Williamsport Black Repertory Theater, in collaboration with Susquehanna University, will present “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Degenstein Theater in the Center for Intercultural and Community Engagement on the Susquehanna University campus, Selinsgrove. Doors will open one hour before show times and both shows are free to the public.

“For Colored Girls” was written as separate poems by Ntozake Shange in 1974, and deals with many of the pertinent issues that all women deal with today such as rape, self-hatred, the folly of youth and the mechanisms people use to cope and escape from the ugliness and darkness of the world.

“For Colored Girls” was Shange’s first work and most acclaimed theater piece, consisting of a series of poetic monologues to be accompanied by dance movements and music, a form Shange coined as the “choreopoem.” “For Colored Girls” tells the stories of seven women who have suffered oppression in a racist and sexist society.

The idea for performing the play was initiated by minority students at Susquehanna University. In February, Williamsport Black Repertory Theater director Gerald Smith received a call from Dena Salerno, dean of Susquehanna’s Center for Intercultural and Community Engagement, and was asked if he would direct the play.

“It is by far the most powerful subject matter ever presented,” Smith said. “This masterpiece is for all to see as it will expose the under belly of a stark reality that will bind the commonalities that all people have. In the end, ‘For Colored Girls’ will lift us all from darkness into a marvelous light.”

Williamsport Black Repertory Theater was founded by Smith and Denise Gray out of a need to bring quality, thought-provoking plays to the Williamsport area from an African-American perspective, according to Smith. This in turn has become the group’s mission, emphasizing the importance in educating children to the rich heritage that black people have contributed to the arts, most of which is otherwise lost to them.

Shange’s writing style is idiosyncratic and she often uses vernacular language, unique structure and unorthodox punctuation to emphasize syncopation. Shange wanted to write “For Colored Girls” in a way that mimicked how real women speak so she could draw her readers’ focus to the experience of reading and listening.

As a choreopoem, the piece is a series of 20 separate poems choreographed to music that weaves interconnected stories of love, empowerment, struggle and loss into a complex representation of sisterhood. The cast consists of seven nameless African-American women only identified by the colors they are assigned. They are the lady in red, lady in orange, lady in yellow, lady in green, lady in blue, lady in brown and lady in purple. Subjects ranging from rape, abandonment, abortion and domestic violence are tackled.

Included in the cast are Raque Capellan, a junior majoring in communications digital multimedia broadcasting; Yasmin Chervin, a senior majoring in psychology; Acara Carter, a junior majoring in biology; Morgan Green, a junior majoring in creative writing; Busisiwe Chapula, a junior majoring in accounting; Alanna Dent, a sophomore majoring in communications; and Crystal Cannady, a senior majoring in sociology. Aminah Muhammad, a sophomore, is the costume designer majoring in chemistry; Hailey Leseur, a junior majoring in creative writing, is the stage manager; and technical assistant Morgan Richardson is a junior majoring in creative writing.

“The play was chosen because the students chose it,” Smith said. “The impact this will have on the audience is the bond and commonality that all people have together on this earth. Of course the impact will differ individually depending upon the experience they have all had.”

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