Point Park Conservatory's for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf is an earnest and occasionally inspired production of a flawed but important work.
The seven performers under the direction of John Amplas portray a dozen or so unnamed personas in Ntozake Shange's "choreopoem" about the joys and pains of being young, black and female in America.
Colored girls comprises a series of free-verse monologues and movement pieces, broadly progressing from childhood innocence to adult disillusionment, anguish and redemption. The performers are wrapped in Meredith Murphy's costumes of white fabric, with touches of color to denote their roles, which Shange identifies only as "woman in red," "woman in blue," etc.
At its best, Shange's writing flows like song lyrics, in sensuous street rhythms, and she's capable of brutal honesty, deep solace and heartbreaking vulnerability. Often, this passionate student cast harmonizes wonderfully. Kelsey Robinson ("blue") renders her solos especially well. Ingrid Alli ("yellow") charms in a movement passage as Sechita, Shange's embodiment of woman as mythic force. Another highlight is the "somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff" scene, incisively performed by Da'Minique M. Williams.
Shange evokes the textures of emotion beautifully -- her women's pleasures and sorrows, from Latin music, sex and discovering a childhood hero in a library book to rape, abortion, abusive men and self-hatred. False-hearted lovers are told off with elegant dispatch as the women, individually and collectively, complete a journey toward realizing what the love they have to give is really worth. Joyousness is especially evident in a couple of group dance passages. These segments, with simple, affecting choreography by Ron Hutson, wordlessly complete this intermissionless 90-minute show, which Amplas paces briskly but sensitively.
Colored girls, which premiered on Broadway in 1976, is a cultural touchstone. It's easy to see why: Stage works written expressly from a feminist African-American woman's point of view are rare enough even today.
For as compelling as colored girls often is, though, Shange is better at communicating experience than she is at telling stories: Most of her monologues start by heading in one direction and then simply proceed, without twist or counterpoint, to the expected destination. Often that destination is raw melodrama. Even its admirers wouldn't rate "colored girls" high on irony; Shange knows whose side she's on, and expects us to join her. When her women earn the play's prize (self-acceptance), it's through sheer expressive force rather than any real drama.
For colored girls ... continues through Sun., April 22. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com