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STAGE REVIEW : ‘For Colored Girls’ Still Lively, Powerful Experience

Once they get more than 10 years old, many “issue” plays begin to lose some zest, to show signs of exhaustion by changing times. Not so with “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s testament (written in 1976) to the despair, anger and dreams of black women.

In the hands of the Orange County Black Actors Theatre, the small troupe that has been performing all or part of “For Colored Girls” off and on the last eight years, this “choreo-poem” not only still has teeth, it has the bite of an enduring gospel.

It is apparent from the opening moments of its current production, at the Anaheim Cultural Center, that OCBAT remains comfortable with the piece’s lyrical rhythms and refracted, conversational style, which depends on the audience’s ability to feel, and not just “understand,” what is going on.

The play’s language, braided through with frequently weighty abstractions, is undiluted. An audience must pay attention to catch the nuances. But the payoff can be rich. “For Colored Girls” would be worth it if only for Robyn Hastings soaring through the heart-breaking “a night with beau willie brown,” an episode that recounts, specifically and shockingly, a ghetto father’s murder of his two children while his wife watches helplessly. Hastings’ terror and pain are palpable.

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While much of “For Colored Girls” carries a bleak view and projects a serrated edge--segments dwell on rape and abortion as much as on the liberating power of the imagination--Shange lets humor carry her messages as well.

“Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff,” as delivered with comic punch by Zondra Ann Marshall, is a half-smiling look at women (color seems irrelevant here) as victim, especially when it comes to relationships with the wrong man.

The piece is quickly followed by “sorry,” with the cast members in a jiving chorus, remembering all the ways men have let them down and then apologized (always unconvincingly) for it. It is not all Spike Lee’s goofy “please baby, please baby, baby, baby, please” plaint, either. One woman tells how her man, impatient with the whole thing, just knocks her down instead of tuning in.

Shange has been criticized for male-bashing in “For Colored Girls,” and the charge has some justification: While women are portrayed in full dimension, with personalities of expansive character and experience, the men are limited partners or, worse, hardened exploiters.

Still, the validity of “For Colored Girls” as a woman’s piece about the black “experience” confirms it as special theater. It offers insight now and likely will for some time.

Keeping faith with the play’s deep personal nature, director Adleane Hunter has emphasized Shange’s poetry by steadfastly avoiding staginess. The set is gray/black and bare, with the only color coming from the bright dresses worn by the capable seven-woman cast. Unobtrusive, though sometimes surprising, choreography links the dramatic segments.

‘FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF’

An Orange County Black Actors Theatre production of Ntozake Shange’s play. Directed by Adleane Hunter. With Regina Herod, Regenia Wimbish, Robyn Hastings, Renda Pettis, Eulynda Porter, Violette Winge, Zondra Ann Marshall. Plays tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Anaheim Cultural Center at 931 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Tickets: $10. (714) 667-7090.

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