TWENTY years ago, a play by an unknown author swept onto the
stage at New York's Public Theater and swept the audience to its
"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow
Is Enuf" was like nothing anyone had ever seen. It wasn't even a
play, strictly speaking; the author, Ntozake Shange, called it a
The description seemed apt. Members of the small, female
ensemble (including, at the time, Shange herself) danced
passionately, dressed in swirling, colorful costumes evocative of
They spoke even more passionately, always about aspects of
black women's lives. By turns their words were funny or grim, sweet
or heart-wrenching, touching or terrifying. It wasn't dialogue,
though, not in any usual sense. It didn't aim for conversational
naturalism, or for oratorical splendor. It was poetry.
And it was immensely popular; in the years that followed, it
was produced widely. Now the St. Louis Black Repertory Company,
which presented "For Colored Girls . . ." last fall, is mounting
the show again as a fund-raiser.
It will be presented at the Mildred Bastian Theatre at St.
Louis Community College at Forest Park at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday
and Saturday. A fourth performance in the series, next Sunday at 3
p.m., is already sold out.
Why has the play held up so well that, years later, it's the
choice that the Black Rep makes when it wants to be sure of drawing
"I don't think that's a question you ask me," Shange said, from
her home in Philadelphia. "I can't account for other people's
"Hopefully, it lasts because I wrote it well - with passion,
with some eccentric images that appeal to people, and with some
ethical points that hold sway with a lot of American women."
Ron Himes, artistic director of the Black Rep and director of
the company's production, noted that last fall's production - which
went on to a successful six-week run in Philadelphia - was the
first time that the Black Rep, also 20 years old, ever staged "For
Colored Girls . . ."
"We've done other works of Ntozake Shange's, but years ago, it
was one of those pieces everybody was doing," he said. "All the
colleges did it. The national tour had been here, twice. We decided
to choose something else by the same author.
"But this year, the time was right. There's a whole new
generation of people going to the theater now who haven't seen the
work. In a lot of ways, it's new.
"And certainly, the issues that the play speaks to are just as
relevant today as they were 20 years ago."
Though Shange, at 47, remains committed to those issues, "For
Colored Girls . . ." is not her personal, defining statement. "I
don't begrudge anybody who likes my work, but I don't need to see
it anymore," she said. "I rarely see productions of it, unless I am
involved in some way. I don't see much reason to go. I know what is
Besides, she doesn't want to live in the past. Since "For
Colored Girls . . .," she's turned out volumes of poetry, novels,
criticism, other plays. "Liliane," a novel, came out about a year
and a half ago.
Currently she's at work on two books. Shange and her sister,
Ifa Bayaza, are writing a novel, "Some Sing, Some Cry," dealing
with seven generations of women in a large family, all of whom are
involved in some aspect of the evolution of black music.
She's also writing a non-fiction work, a history of
African-American cuisine. …