THREE PIECES by Ntozake Shange


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The author of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf here offers three impressive new verse plays which often seem better suited to the page than the stage. Even in a photograph, the most traditionally structured of the three, lengthy poetry-monologues dominate; and, in all of the pieces, characters function chiefly as brief, spectral-voiced embodiments of black strength and black pain. Best of all is spell #7, in which Shange explores the history of the paradoxical role of the black performer in American show business--the vices of exploitation and stereotyping vs. the virtues of opportunity and public visibility--with an anti-white anger that's offset by wit and vulnerability. One woman here imagines herself waking up white one day: "". . . i wanted to try it cuz so many men like white girls/white men/black men/ latin men/jewish men/ asians/ everybody. So i thought if i waz a white girl for a day i might understand this better/ after all gertrude stein wanted to know abt the black women/ alice adams wrote thinking abt billie/ joyce carol oates has three different black characters with the same name."" (She then adds, in her fantasized white persona: ""yes i'm so sorry they were born niggahs, but then if i cant punish myself to death for being white/ i certainly cant in good conscience keep waiting for the cleaning lady. . . ."") And perhaps strongest of all is another woman's sharply visual metaphor for the doublebind of black success: ""i commenced to buying pieces of gold/ 14 carat/ 24 carat/ 18 carat gold/every time some black person did something that waz beneath him as a black person and more like a white person. . . . if my mind is not respected/ my body toyed with/i buy gold/& weep. i weep as i fix the chains round my neck/ my wrists/ my ankles. . . .""As she says in her introduction, Shange's style is the product of a political struggle ""to attack deform n maim the language that i waz taught to hate myself in. . . i haveta fix my tool to my needs."" But unlike most writers who take on language itself, Shange is shrewd and aware enough to know just how much to maim, just how much to borrow--and the results continue to be, if somewhat repetitive, vivid and accessible and musically alive with recognitions for both black and white readers.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's