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Nubia Monks should be careful not to get typecast. Then again, the Twin Cities actor is showing her knack for going from alleged ugliness to exquisite beauty.

We saw her in Penumbra Theatre's recent "Wine in the Wilderness," where, after her supposedly vile character got in touch with her true elegance, that authenticity helped change the thinking of the painter who wanted to disfigure her on canvas.

Now as Celie, the much-abused heroine in "The Color Purple," she has another inspiring metamorphosis. And when Celie pumps her fist on "I'm Here" near the end of the show, the emotion and color in Monks' voice lets us feel the weight of her tribulations falling away as her world opens up.

The chills that this tearjerker evokes in Theatre Latté Da's outstanding production come not just from Celie's resilience in the face of relentless brutality. Her triumph doubles as a statement about a production that orbits the search for love and wholeness in a world colored by cruelty.

Daniel J. Bryant's staging of "Purple," which will transfer to New York's Geva Theatre after its Minneapolis run, marries grandeur with intimacy. The set, by Eli Sherlock, is spare and epic, with wooden slats lit imposingly by Jason Lynch and Bentley Heydt. Those boards conceal a mirror and a shelf, among other useful things.

Music director Sanford Moore keeps things tight as we get into the thoughts and feelings of the characters. And as a gossipy Greek chorus, Lynnea Doublette, Heather McElrath and Angela Stewart offer well-timed, much-needed comic relief throughout.

Adapted from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Purple" has been made into two movies — director Steven Spielberg's straightforward 1985 film and, just last year, Blitz Bazawule's feature of the musical. That original stage musical, by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, can have its most palpable immediacy in the theater.

At Latté Da, the narrative starts with a church service as Celie, barely a teenager, gives birth to a child fathered by her father figure, Pa (Dennis Spears, in a departure from his usual milder roles). Pa snatches the newborn from her, just like he did the previous one, and takes it away.

When landowner Mister (David L. Murray) comes around looking for a replacement for his recently deceased wife, Pa offers him Celie. But Mister is more interested in a cow. Pa packages Celie and the ungulate as a deal.

Mister, too, is a horrible cretin. When Celie's younger sister Nettie (the sweetly innocent Nambi Mwassa), runs to Celie seeking refuge from Pa, Mister proves just as lecherous and predatory.

"Purple" has female characters who offer alternative versions of love even as they rule the roost, including free-spirited entertainer Shug Avery (the fabulously talented Angela Wildflower) and Sofia (Carnetha Anthony), the wife of Mister's good-natured and decent son, Harpo (soul-filled Ronnie Allen).

If it's hard to forgive the overweening depravity of some of the men, the musical offers at least a passing explanation. These people are fresh out of slavery and are broken in myriad ways. They are subjected to random societal violence, which keeps them off-balance even as they try to make a go of life in complicated, ad-hoc marriages.

All that viciousness in the story tests patience but it's not entirely soul-killing. In fact, the evil provides a launchpad for the artistry to soar. And Bryant gets terrific performances from his cast. With this "Purple," he shows that the ordinary flower that inspired Walker's title is not just an unassuming color in a field wanting to be noticed.

Through all the hardships and storms, "Purple" can be a shade of revelatory magnificence.

'The Color Purple'

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Av. NE., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends May 5.

Tickets: $35-$68. 612-339-3003 or