In 1975, when Ntozake Shange's seven-woman "choreopoem" opened at the Public Theater and then moved to Broadway, audiences were introduced to a new, nonlinear form of theatrical storytelling rooted in ancient shamanism. It combined poetry, prose monologues, and dance in a passionate, lyrical outpouring of primal, subconscious feeling to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the inner-city African-American woman and the triumph of courage and wit over sorrow and despair. More than three decades later, when the formula for commercial success for most American drama is to echo the style of linear discourse forged by the great masters of modern drama -- Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, and Miller -- director Marvin Kazembe Jefferson's lively, searingly poignant revival is a disquieting reminder of the colorful, incantatory, oracular road not taken.
A talented ensemble of young and mature actors -- Mia Anderson, M. Lynette Braxton, Cherish Monique Duke, Tanika La Harbor, Mercedes Ilarazza, Miriam Stovall, and Rasheeda S. Sampson, who also choreographed -- reaches deep within to express Shange's dazzling, poetic kaleidoscope. Themes include prejudice, motherhood, rape, unrequited love, violence, identity, and the desperate struggle of inner-city black women to maintain stable, loving relationships in a culture dominated by violence and poverty. Stovall's delightful embodiment of a young girl finding first love and Braxton's harrowing tale of domestic violence are highlights. Antanesha Dallas, Tiffany Keitt, and Rosa Rodriguez, all of the Hudson Guild's teen program, display raw, promising talent.
Thursday's audience of mostly teens continued talking loudly after the house lights darkened. But it's a testament to the play's exquisite power and the dynamic, riveting performances that they immediately grew silent and at the end signaled their appreciation with enthusiastic applause. With the Hudson Guild's "pay what you wish" ticket policy, there's no reason for a new generation of theatre artists unfamiliar with this seminal work not to see one of the remaining performances.
Presented by and at Hudson Guild Theatre Company
441 W. 26th St., NYC.
Jan. 26-Feb. 11. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.