Groundbreaking play about African-American sisterhood

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Celebrate Black History Month with 4th Wall Theatre at the Burgdorff Performing Arts Center in Maplewood with a showing of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking play, “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.” The piece is billed as a “choreopoem” and weaves together 20 separate poems with music, movement and narratives to tell the stories of love, empowerment, struggle and loss in a complex representation of African-American sisterhood. The cast consists of seven nameless African-American women only identified by the colors they are assigned. The show first premiered at the Henry Street Settlement, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre and later moved to Broadway.

“The company has a history of choosing lesser known material with an eye on broadening cultural diversity both on stage and in the audience, which is obviously a great fit for this community,” Maplewood Office of Cultural Affairs manager Andrew Fishman said in a press release.

“The timing for this presentation couldn’t be better falling in the heart of Black History Month, and we enthusiastically welcome this organization to the Burgdorff Center,” Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca said.

This show first took shape in 1974 as an electrifying performance by Shange and four of her close friends in a Berkeley, Calif., women’s bar called the Bacchanal. As they moved and danced, they recited Shange’s poems about coming of age, heartbreak, sexual assault and redemption. The choreopoem went on to win the 1977 Obie and was nominated for Tony and Grammy awards. Time Magazine called it “a poignant, gripping, angry and beautiful work.”

In Maplewood, 4th Wall’s production will be presented Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m. at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, 10 Durand Road in Maplewood. The show is directed by Gwen Ricks-Spencer, 4th Wall founding member and current executive director.

“This piece holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very first show I ever saw on Broadway and it made a lasting and profound impression on me,” Ricks-Spencer said. “I was excited at the idea of directing the stage version, because so many people only know the 2015 movie by Tyler Perry. The play has an immediacy and intimacy that is palpable on the stage. It also provides an opportunity for the audience to hear all of the poems that make up the piece. There were shortened versions of several of them in the movie.”

The show contains mature subject matter; please use discretion when considering bringing children younger than 16. The show will be followed by a brief discussion for those who are interested.

To purchase tickets, call 973-996-8484 or visit www.4thwalltheatre.org.

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