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New York Theater

It Hasn't Always Been This Way

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The centerpiece of New Federal Theatre's two-week Ntozake Shange retrospective is an updated revival of this 1981 one-act choreopoem. Like 1975's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which first brought her to prominence, the nonlinear, kaleidoscopic work combines poetry, prose monologues, and modern dance in a lyrical, incantatory outpouring of primal emotion, exploring African-American life from the perspective of its resilient women.

Beautifully directed and choreographed by Dianne McIntyre, a renowned veteran of New York's black dance and theatre community who also helmed the 1981 work, with jazz and blues accompaniment by Olu Dara, four talented performers (Shireen Dickson, Nina Domingue, Petronia Paley, and Charles E. Wallace) weave together Shange's soulful, prophetic, often arresting poetry and prose with the vibrant dance styles and rhythms of African-American life. Beginning with smooth and sassy Harlem Renaissance jazz, they move through African dance-influenced depictions of rural sharecroppers, swing, bebop, a romantic duet of lovers relaxing outdoors on a hot summer night, and other visually compelling movement. The lithe, sensual Dickson is an especially accomplished modern dancer, but all four express McIntyre's inspired, flowing, easy-on-the-eyes choreography with uncommon grace.

Subjects include a young Harlem mother's fierce, angry diatribe vowing to protect her newborn girl from the culture of violence, a machine gun-paced howl of horror at ongoing Israeli-Arab violence, a lament for oppressed Latin American poets, achingly gorgeous love poems, and an inspiring wakeup call to today's inner-city youth to renounce the death-obsessed culture of machismo, violence, ignorance, and crime and embrace life's infinite possibilities with dignity, strength, and compassion. Shange's writing is rich with complex sentences, unusual images, and unexpected word choices. And while uneven verbal articulation and projection skills render the work less accessible, what does travel across the footlights, to paraphrase the Bible, sings in tongues of men, women, and angels.

Presented by New Federal Theatre at the Castillo Theatre, 543 W. 42nd St., NYC. Feb. 21-March 4. Wed-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.

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