The lady in orange says there is no air. Beau Willie is all tied up in the sheets, wishing a friend would come over and bring him some blow or any other kind of drug. He watches the shadows, thinking it looks like Fallujah. He waits until it is all clear and he can hear traffic and children again.
The lady in red continues to say that Beau Willie claims there is nothing wrong with him. He tells Crystal that he has been staying home and watching his own children instead of killing Arab children. She calls him a fool and says that he has always been one.
The lady in orange continues the story, saying that Beau Willie tried to get veterans' benefits but he cannot read, even dropping out of remedial classes. He starts driving a gypsy cab around the city but the cops always mess with him and he is not making any money.
The lady in orange and red say that Crystal is pregnant again. The lady in red muses that the father is probably that "goddamn raghead from the bodega" (80). Beau beats Crystal almost to death when he hears about her pregnancy. She has the baby regardless, and now Beau Willie has two kids. Someone tells Crystal that Beau Willie has been spending his money on a girl who tends bar at the cafe. The pipe burns his fingers and turns them black like his teeth and he cannot get out of bed. He wants Crystal to let him come home but instead, she gets a court order to keep him away.
Beau Willie has wanted to marry Crystal since she was 14 but now, she laughs in his face saying she will never marry him. He comes over the next day, swinging chairs at Crystal and demanding that she will marry him so he can stop driving "spics" (81) around. He sweats and beats Crystal and their son, Kwame. Beau Willie finally runs away, but Crystal almost dies.
Beau Willie sits in the cafe, laughing, smoking, drinking, and spilling on himself while telling everyone that Crystal is going to take him back and he will take care of her. He goes back to her place and beats on the door. Their daughter, Naomi, cries and Crystal screams for him to leave. She tells him the police are coming and his children shouldn't see him like this. He gets into her apartment and grabs Naomi. Crystal screams that he cannot touch her kids.
Beau Willie suddenly becomes apologetic and humble, saying he just wants to marry her and give her things. Naomi runs toward her father and he sits there with the girl on his knee, playing. Crystal watches stonily and tells him that he is a good father. Beau Willie tells Crystal she is beautiful, and he coaxes her to take him back.
Then, he grabs the kids and pushes the screen out the window. Crystal yells at him that she will never marry him and commands him to give her the kids back. The kids are hanging from the fifth story and people are looking up at them in horror. Beau Willie starts sweating like when he was in Iraq and tells Crystal she has to agree to marry him. Naomi and Kwame scream and Crystal can only whisper... and he drops them.
The ladies now say they are missing something – a “layin on of hands” (84). The hands are strong, cool, and make them whole and pure. The lady in blue says she feels the gods coming into her, making her feel like she is finally open to herself. She knows about laying her body open for a man, putting her flesh out there and being eager, but she has been missing something.
The lady in purple says that it is not her mother holding her tight. The lady in red continues, recalling the time she woke up in a boarding house crying and afraid, and jumped up. She wanted to leave her body and go away on the wind. She felt numb and climbed into a tree. The tree held her in its branches until she saw the dawn come up and felt the dew. Then, the sun wrapped her in light. She is cold and hot and feels like a child. She is “endlessly weaving garments for the moon / wit my tears” (87). Finally, she says, “i found god in myself / & i loved her/ I loved her fiercely” (87).
All the ladies repeat these lines softly, singing to each other and then to the audience. They close into a circle with each other.
“a nite with beau willie brown” takes the choreopoem into a deeply tragic and haunting place. Shange explains that this piece originated from her time in San Francisco and New York. One time in San Francisco, she was stuck in traffic and heard police cars. She then caught a glimpse of a man dangling two children out his window. In New York City, she felt claustrophobic a lot. She also began to notice newspaper articles about men dropping children from windows. The memories and experiences merged with her awareness of the proliferation of domestic violence and compelled her to write "beau willie brown." She explains, “the story spoke to the silent endurance of so many women. For me, in the writing of it, that woman, that one woman I heard screaming [in New York], was no longer silent.”
In the first publication of for colored girls..., Beau Willie Brown is a Vietnam veteran, but in the more recent version, Shange changed him to a veteran from Iraq. In both examples, Beau Willie has returned to a country where he does not have many options, even though he has risked his life in the name of patriotism. After his return, he is marginalized by his race, his near-illiteracy, and his psychological problems from the war. In order to numb his pain, he becomes a drug addict and abuses his girlfriend, Crystal.
Shange evinces some sympathy for Beau Willie because she fully develops his character and his tragic circumstances. He is clearly suffering from PTSD, but cannot find employment or get any help.
The refrain “there waz no air” (78) characterizes Beau Willie’s existence is, as scholar Neal A. Lester notes, “caused in part by the capitalist system into which he is born. Consequently, he falls far short of the white patriarchy’s fundamental definition of manhood… he is suffocated by circumstances not exclusively of his own making.” Sandra Hollin Flowers comments, “Beau Willie Brown is the quintessential black man of his generation. By this, I do not mean, nor does Shange intend to imply, that Beau Willie Brown is all there is to manhood… Shange’s compassion for black men surfaces most noticeably in this poem.”
In terms of plot, "beau willie brown" is the most tragic story in the poem. Crystal is stuck in an abusive relationship with Beau Willie. He nearly kills her, but she keeps coming back to him. In this way, Shange explores the complexities of navigating an abusive relationship - the reality is that it is not always easy for a woman to leave an abusive partner. Even though Crystal is in pain, she desires love. She and Willie share a long history together. She lets Beau back into her life because “Beau Willie oozed kindness & / crystal who had known so lil/ let beau hold kwame” (83).
The final poem in the play is entitled “a layin on of hands.” It is a celebration of womanhood, friendship, self-awareness, and empowerment. The women realize that they have been missing this “layin on of hands," which is an affirming, pure, and authentic expression of their communality and sisterhood. They realize that they need to allow the gods “comin into me / layin me open to myself” (85). This realization comes after a night of fear, anxiety and ennui. The lady in red describes how she climbs into a tree that holds her maternally in her branches, and it is there that she experiences light, beauty, acceptance, and catharsis. She finally finds “god in myself / & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely” (87).
The "god" that Shange references is not connected to any kind of religion. Rather, it is an expression of female divinity and strength that comes from “natural entities” merging, according to critic Sandra L. Richards. As she does elsewhere in the poem, Shange uses music and dance to support and promote her ideas. Richards notes, “their song – in production set to the rhythms of a spiritual –parallels the movement of the word, sounding at first hesitant, next gathering momentum through repetition , and then creating a soothing, trancelike state in which the actresses and the audience can experience the joy of their own (female) divinity.” The ladies' desire to find God is separate from the fragile earthly existence they lead, but it serves to provide them with meaning and spiritual sustenance.