A trip to Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center is an exhilarating experience that comes with outrageously high value but the low price of $12 a seat. Steppenwolf, Northlight, and Victory Gardens theaters may be more famous performance venues, but it would be hard to imagine that they would provide more compelling entertainment than what is available at Fleetwood-Jourdain.
The final performance of the musical “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf” by Ntozake Shage – the first of four shows staged at FJT throughout the summer – was nothing short of spectacular. It was performed by an ensemble of seven highly talented black women who speak and sing about the joys, sorrows and challenges that are experienced by black women in the matters of life and love.
The show was fast-paced, joyful, sorrowful and touching in a riveting performance. The singing and speechifying were ably accompanied by Marlene Rosenberg, an accomplished bassist who mentors in Chicago public high schools and at the Chicago Jesuit Academy as a musician, teacher and clinician. She is also a part-time faculty member at Northwestern University in the small jazz ensemble program.
Each of the seven “Colored Girls” featured in the show delivered top-notch entertainment and did so at a pace that made the 90 minutes seem much shorter. Zest for life and relationships were the ingredients in this engaging production. The joys and heartaches that come with being young and determined to build joy-filled lives were the coin of the realm for this superb ensemble.
When it was first produced, The New Yorker praised the show for “exploring every feeling and experience a woman ever had and will be performed for generations to come . . . a prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world.”
The refrains of the ensemble that stuck with the listener had to do with “low-down men” and the disappointments and challenges that they presented to these vivid characters.
One of the more evocative refrains suggested that “the laying on of hands” allowed the women “to find the god in myself” and “that they loved her,” that “Colored Girls have no right to be sorry” and that they “couldn’t stand to be sorry and colored at the same time.” The women feared that their men would “put their hearts on the bottom of their shoes,” leading to a “requiem for themselves.”
Each of these compelling women took a turn reaching out and grabbing the hearts of the audience. On numerous occasions the audience murmured aloud their understanding and sympathy with the highs and lows that the world hurled at these “Colored Girls.” Particularly engaging were Aayisha Chanel, described in the program as “the Lady in Yellow,” and Kelly Owens, “the Lady in Orange.” Both drew mirthful responses from the audience that signaled the universality of the Colored Girls’ search for love, acceptance and validation. They made the audience feel like fully engaged partners in their lust for life. This writer left the theater hoping that they were successful in their pursuits.
In an interview with the RoundTable, Artistic Director Tim Rhoze said that FJT “landed” at the Noyes Center five years ago and that he joined FJT three years ago. He made it clear that he is determined to bring forward a program at FJT that is dynamic, entertaining and thought-provoking. His commitment is to ensure that the 150 seats in the theatre are fully occupied for all the productions. The theatre at Noyes
Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., is a joint enterprise of the City of Evanston and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre.
The three shows to come over the remainder of the summer season at the Noyes Cultural Center are “Woza Albert!” (Through July 14), “Going to St. Ives” (July 20-Aug. 4), and “Big Butt Girls and Other Fantasies – The Remix” (Aug. 10-25).