Jayme Lawson is only 22.
It’s easy to forget this when watching the recent Juilliard grad strut across the stage with authority in the Public Theater’s new production of poet Ntozake Shange’s legendary 1975 choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf. The new production, returning to the Public more than 43 years after its debut off-Broadway, is a welcome revival. Just as relevant today as it was when it was first performed in the mid-1970s, its themes on race, gender, ethnicity, domestic violence, love and the resilience of women, specifically center black and Latinx women.
The “baby” of the cast, Lawson’s confidence and command of the stage stand out, making it not-so-surprising that the Washington, D.C. native was reportedly cast in the new Batman film as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Last Friday, before the Bat signal broke out with her big-screen news, Lawson spoke with The Root about this latest, greatest production of For Colored Girls and how relevant the material remains.
“It’s strange how timeless this piece is,” Lawson told The Root. “It kind of hurts that we can still relate to it 40 years now, and that’s why people are resonating. It doesn’t feel dated. This is something—#metoo—we can relate to. Black women are saying they are feeling affirmed on that stage, feeling like someone is speaking for them and to them. It’s resonating very deeply with everyone now.”
Featuring Orange Is the New Black’s Adrienne C. Moore, and actors Sasha Allen, Celia Chevalier, Okwui Okpokwasili, Alexandria Wailes, D. Woods and Danaya Esperanza, this latest production features an all-woman-of-color design team and house musicians, lead by Obie Award-winning director Leah C. Gardiner. It’s warm, it’s passionate, it’s just as biting and joyous through pain as the well-respected material by Shange.
Lawson, a bright spot among a galaxy of stars with whom she shares the stage in For Colored Girls...portrays the Lady in Red (all the characters in the choreopoem are represented by a color), a character who loses her children to domestic violence at 22, a fact not lost on the 22-year-old.
“It’s eerie and crazy about the timing of all of the things,” Lawson said. “I always figured the Lady in Red would be much older...The universe is speaking, something is happening. There’s a reason why I’m approaching this right now. Whatever generation, this thing needs to happen; it is happening right now.”
Just being part of the production—any part—was a dream come true for the young thespian who grew up in D.C. with a great appreciation for Shange’s signature work, which she was first introduced to at 15 at her performing arts high school.
“I could already relate to what Ntozake Shange was writing,” she said.
Telling herself she could not pass up on this opportunity, Lawson remarked that it was “baffling” to her that the play hadn’t been performed in New York City in more than 40 years.
“The casting had brought me in for Lady in Red. I wasn’t even thinking of auditioning [for the role] honestly. In my mindset, I just wanted to be part of it. I didn’t care,” said an ebullient Lawson.
Lawson just graduated from Juilliard in May. Before that, she attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. She didn’t come from a family with a theater or arts background but was deeply influenced by the black men and women who taught her at the performing arts high school.
“To be taught by black men and women about these playwrights and artists and activists really made me want to be an actor,” she said.
Lawson, who describes herself as feeling her safest when “I’m in a room with another black or brown woman” said that to go through this material (“some of the most difficult material to ever come across”) with a team like the one assembled for this production was a blessing for her and how she’s “honored to be a part of this team, for real, for real.”
For Colored Girls…runs at The Public Theater in New York City through Dec. 8.