Penumbra extends ‘for colored girls …’; violinist Nicola Benedetti at Aria

“for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”
Photo by Allen Weeks
Christina Florencia Castro as the Lady in Orange, Khanisha Foster (Blue), Sun Mee Chomet (Green), Audrey Park (Red), Ashe Jaafaru (Brown), Rajané Katurah Brown (Yellow) and Am’ber Montgomery (Purple).

Penumbra has extended Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” another week, adding six more performances to this scorching, ecstatic new production. We saw it on the night of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, and like probably everyone in the house – and certainly everyone in the cast – we thought, “Why does this sound so contemporary? It’s 40 years old! What’s wrong with us?”

The topics in Shange’s sprawling “choreopoem” range from date rape to the divinity within us all. The word “choreopoem” was coined by Shange to describe her signature blend of poetry with dance and music. The play is a series of poems. Penumbra turned to Ananya Chatterjea for the choreography, and she brought fluid motion and breathtaking tableaus. Directors Sarah Bellamy and Lou Bellamy (listed in that order on the program) cast Latina and Asian-American performers as well as African-Americans.

We fell in love with the ensemble cast: Christina Florencia Castro as the Lady in Orange, Khanisha Foster (Blue), Sun Mee Chomet (Green), Audrey Park (Red), Ashe Jaafaru (Brown), Rajané Katurah Brown (Yellow) and Am’ber Montgomery (Purple). Each is a force and a flame. Chomet has been this way before; she appeared in Penumbra’s first production of “for colored girls …” in 1999. Her performance of the show’s most famous monologue, “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff,” communicates fury, sensuality and strength.

The Bellamys added three young actresses, who appear at the beginning and the end as Future 1, 2 and 3: Eycis Maxon, Jianna Reynolds and Quintella Rule. They frame the play – stories of oppression, struggle, racism and violence – with innocence and hope. Maybe 40 years from now, when these young women are in their prime, things will be different?

A special shout to Matthew LeFebvre’s costumes. Created in a rainbow of colors, they flow with Chatterjea’s choreography and make each woman stand out memorably. LeFebvre has had a long relationship with Penumbra under former artistic director Lou Bellamy. We’re glad to see that continue with Sarah Bellamy in charge.

So, what is it like for the cast to appear in this play, at this moment? We were there on a night with a talkback, so we heard it from them. Chomet: “It feeds the work, unfortunately.” Jaafaru: “It came at the right time. It breaks your heart open.” Brown’s last play before this was “The Lorax” at the Children’s Theatre. Her words: “I have been my truest self.” As she described what the play meant to her, she wept. It must be very special to be part of that fierce ensemble, to undergo such a profound experience daily for such a span of time.

Penumbra was founded just two years after Shange’s play made its debut. They’ve grown up together. There’s no question that both remain immediate, relevant and essential.

“for colored girls …” continues through Sunday, Oct. 21. FMI and tickets ($40-15). P.S. Talkbacks are typically on Thursdays, but more may be added due to requests.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 2) at Aria: Schubert Club Mix: Nicola Benedetti. We’ll have two chances this season to see the exciting, award-winning and in-demand Scottish violinist. As the Schubert Club’s first annual Featured Artist, she’ll perform tonight at Aria for its hip, relaxed (and musically superb) Mix series. In January, she’ll return for its venerable, more formal (and musically superb) International Artist series at the Ordway. Both times, Alexei Grynyuk will be at the piano, and Benedetti will play her 1717 Gariel Stradivarius. Tonight’s concert is at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($30; general admission); 651-292-3268.

Nicola Benedetti
Photo by Simon Fowler
Nicola Benedetti will perform tonight at Aria for its hip, relaxed Mix series.
Wednesday and Thursday at Vieux Carré: David Murray Trio. When we heard that Murray had been booked to play small-ish Vieux Carré instead of the bigger, grander Dakota, its parent club, we were surprised. A powerful saxophonist and bass clarinetist, founding member of the famed World Saxophone Quartet and prolific recording artists (150+ albums), Murray is an avant-jazz giant. Then we thought – wait a minute. VC has lately been programming important national acts, along with area musicians and bands. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut was here last week, and before then Harold Mabern. And it seats 120 people, the same as the legendary Village Vanguard in New York, another basement club. Plus VC is a lot more comfortable than the Vanguard, and there’s food. So keep on booking, Vieux Carré. Murray’s trio will feature Chicago percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and bassist James Buckley. 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-35).

Thursday at Northrop: Ballet Hispánico. Making its Northrop debut as the season opener, New York City-based Ballet Hispánico will present a program of works by Latina choreographers. The evening will include Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos,” about growing up in Texas; Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Sombrerísimo,” written for the company’s male dancers; and Tania Pérez-Salas “3: Catorce Dieciséis,” about the circularity of movement through life, reflected in the number Pi. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($47-27; discounts available). 612-624-2345. Performance preview at 6:15 p.m. in the Best Buy Theater.

Ballet Hispánico
Photo by Paula Lobo
New York City-based Ballet Hispánico will present a program of works by Latina choreographers.
Thursday at the Walker: Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble: “Cellular Songs.” The Walker launches its Performing Arts Season with the iconic interdisciplinary artist, the women of her Vocal Ensemble, and songs that explore the connections between humans and the natural world, the most basic unit of life – the cell – and the universe. Monk sees the cell as “a miraculous prototype of cooperation” and this music as offering “an alternative culture of cooperation rather than competition and destruction.” Combined with movement and film, it’s meant to bring us together in the same body of humanity. Reviews of earlier performances note its sense of hope and calm. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($28/$22.50)

Saturday at the Ordway: “La Rondine.” Minnesota Opera’s season gets off on a light foot with Puccini’s only operetta. The titan who gave us “La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madame Butterfly” and “Turandot” wrote “La Rondine” (The Swallow) late in his career. World War I forced the relocation and delay of its premiere and it never quite took off. More than a century later, this “overlooked Puccini classic” is now finding its place in the repertoire. (The most recent Twin Cities performance was in 2015 by Skylark Opera in its previous incarnation.) The tale of a courtesan who falls in love with a country boy is given a fresh twist by director Octavio Cardenas, who views it through a lens of regret. Irish soprano Celine Byrne is Magda, Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo (“Tosca,” 2016) is Ruggero in a Minnesota Opera production making its debut. 8 p.m. Five performances; ends Sunday, Oct. 14. FMI and tickets ($25-200).

Hot ticket: Gary Snyder at Macalester

You might not think Macalester’s annual Engel-Morgan-Jardetzky Distinguished Lecture on Science, Culture and Ethics would qualify as a hot ticket. But the last time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder came through the Twin Cities, he read at Plymouth Church and the place was jammed. Environmentalist, Zen Buddhist, teacher, author of 20 books of poetry and prose, and winner of numerous literary prizes, Snyder will present “Minding the Wild: An Evening of Poetry and Discussion.” 7:30 p.m. in Kagin Commons, 21 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul. Free and open to the public, but tickets are required. FMI and reservations.

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