You can pay a lot for a ticket in this town, with no guarantee that the show will offer anything other than glittery sets and props. But for a mere $7, you can see some Macalester College students deliver truly moving theater — a piece of work brimming with passion and sensuality, with tenderness, hurt and abandon.
The seven student actors performing Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who've Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" bring this 25-year-old choreographed poetry to splendid life. Although younger than the script, the actors immerse themselves in it — taking ownership and showing commitment in their hip-swiveling dances, their raw emotion and exultant joy.
Shange scripted her hallmark coming-of-age piece to amplify the fears, desires and joys of black women. The work, which began life in New York in 1976, uses poetry and movement to offer searing images of romance, dreams and relationships. (Laurie Carlos, who originated the role of Lady in Blue, is now at St. Paul's Penumbra Theatre, where the play had a less-than-stellar production last season.)
Although all the performers are students, Macalester's "Colored Girls" is not an amateur-only production. The actors are supported by a creative team of pros, including director-choreographer Dale Shields, vocal coach Shawn Judge, scenic designer Thomas Barrett (whose set resembles a saucer with two ribbons flying off the top) and lighting designer Nayna Ramey (who has created a hot-and-cool latticework).
Still, it is the performers who bring clarity to their characters and to the play, highlighting not just the liquid sass of the language but also its inherent musicality. The actors jam together like a tight band, then take turns delivering solos.
Saturday night's performance featured searing solo turns by Jimica Dawkins (Lady in Yellow); Tafadzwa Pasipanodya (Lady in Purple); Danai Gurira (Lady in Blue), and Marissa Lightbourne (Lady in Green). Cerissa Chaney, LaNeisha Stanford and Nisreen Dawan round out the cast.
To be sure, the student-actors evince differing levels of promise. And, in their movements, they are often over-eager — stepping with a quick jerk where a glide might do. But that's the kind of nuance that comes with experience and growing confidence.
The Star Tribune does not usually review college productions, but this one, with its swirls of beauty and testifying, with its eruption of young, womanly energy, is exceptional.