All the ladies come onto the stage and freeze in positions of distress. The lady in brown calls upon the others to sing a black girl’s song, to give her words and to bring her out of herself. Each lady declares her origins—the lady in brown outside Chicago, the lady in yellow outside Detroit, the lady in purple outside Houston, the lady in red outside Baltimore, the lady in green outside San Francisco, the lady in blue outside Manhattan, and the lady in orange outside St. Louis. Then they begin to sing songs of infancy and childhood: “Mama’s Little Baby Likes Shortnin’ Bread” and “Little Sally Walker.”
The lady in yellow tells the story of graduation night when she was the only virgin in the crowd. She drank and danced and went out to the parking lot with Bobby, where she made love to him in the back seat of a Buick. The lady in blue then relates how, pretending she was Puerto Rican, she ran away at sixteen to the South Bronx to dance with Willie Colón, the famous salsa musician. When he did not show up at the dance hall, she got mad, refused to dance with anyone, and started yelling in English. Later she was possessed by the subtle blues of Archie Shepp, and she recited her poem as a thank-you for music that she loved “more than poem.”
The lady in red recites a note attached to a plant she gave to her lover when she ended the affair. She loved him for eight months, two weeks, and a day; was stood up four times; left him presents, poems, and plants; drove miles to see him before work; and finally decided that her experiment of debasing herself to gain love was a failure. All of the ladies then dance to Willie Colón’s “Che Che Cole”—they dance to keep from crying and to keep from dying.
A sudden light change stops the dancing, and the ladies in green, yellow, orange, and brown leave the stage. The ladies in red, blue, and purple discuss how difficult it is to press rape charges against someone you know, someone who took you out to dinner or made dinner for you and then beat you and betrayed you. The nature of rape changed; it haunts the places and people where companionship is sought. When the light again changes, the ladies are hit by an imaginary slap. The ladies in red and purple exit. The lady in blue reveals her experience of a lonely abortion. She went alone because she did not want anyone to see her or to know that she was pregnant and ashamed. After her monologue, she exits the stage.
Soft, deep music is heard and voices call “Sechita.” The lady in purple enters and describes the quadroon balls in St. Louis and the gambling boats on the Mississippi. She narrates the story of Sechita, as the lady in green dances her life. Sechita dances in a creole carnival after the wrestlers finish their match; she dances the dance of Nefertiti, of the Egyptian goddess of love and creativity, of the rituals of the second millennium, and then she leaves the stage. Portraying an eight-year-old girl in St. Louis, the lady in brown explains how she was disqualified from a library reading contest because she reported on a book from the Adult Reading Room. The book, a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the liberator of Haiti, introduced her to her first black hero, and she fell in love with him and decided to run away to Haiti. When she got...
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down to the docks, she met a little boy whose name was Toussaint Jones, and she decided that they might be able to move some of their own spirits down by the river in St. Louis, 1955.
The lady in red follows with the tale of a dazzling coquette who lured men to her bed and made divine love to them. At four-thirty in the morning she arose, bathed, and became herself, an ordinary brown-braided woman who chased the men from her bed, wrote accounts of her exploits in a journal, and cried herself to sleep.
The lady in blue explains how she used to live in the world until she moved to Harlem, and that she felt her universe constricted to six blocks and a tunnel with a train. The ladies in purple, yellow, and orange enter and represent the strangers that the lady in blue feared. In another tone, the lady in purple tells the story of three friends all attracted to the same man, who dated one and flirted with the other two. When the first romance waned, he sought out one of the others, who told her friend that he claimed the relationship was over. The two found him with another woman, and the friends comforted each other.
A quartet of the ladies—in blue, purple, yellow, and orange—sing of their lost loves and pain until they are joined by the ladies in red, green, and brown, who chant with them an affirmation of their love, dancing until they are full of life and togetherness. The lady in green then celebrates the recovery of all of her stuff that “somebody almost walked off wid.” After the ladies recite the excuses and apologies men gave them, the lady in blue asserts her right to be angry and to accept no more apologies.
The last story of Crystal and Beau Willie is told by the lady in red. Beau Willie, a Vietnam veteran, came home “crazy as hell” from the war. When he tried to go to school, he was put into remedial classes because he could not read, so he drove a gypsy cab that kept breaking down. His girlfriend Crystal had a baby while he was in Vietnam that he was not sure was his; she got pregnant again when he returned, so Beau Willie had two children, a girl and a boy. When Crystal refused to marry him, he got drunk and started swinging chairs at her, including the high chair with his son. Having almost died, Crystal got a court order to keep Beau Willie away. He went to Crystal’s to try to convince her to marry him; when she would not open the door, he broke it down. He coaxed the children into his arms. When Crystal again refused to marry him, he held the children out of the fifth-story window and dropped them. The ladies come out and chant how each misses a “layin’ on of hands” until “i found god in myself & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely” arises as a song of joy to each other and to the audience.