Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the Red & Brown Water

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In the Red & Brown Water, is of the here and now and ever after. Set in the “distant present” in a fictitious small Louisiana town, the piece paces itself to the rhythms of the people of the town, people named Oya and Elegba and Shango . . . African gods and goddesses.

The rhythm or pace is quietly intense as the protagonist, Oya, a young woman who likes to race or run, misses her start and can’t seem to catch up.

In the Red and Brown Water is the story of her missed race and how sometimes voids cannot be filled.

In language that is so poetic and beautiful the muses or other loa in the town who sing Oya’s story, sing of its inevitability witnessed when the curtain rises on a still form on a raised surface— call it an altar. Call it hallowed ground. Call it Dorothy’s house once the hurricane, no tornado, took it away and her—tossing them both into a land where green people work for a mean old woman.

Call it poverty, poor health care, fate.

Part one of an episodic journey ends on a question, which is not answered necessarily in The Brothers Size or Marcus, parts two and three, Ryan Rilette, director of Marin Theatre Company's production of "Red," says in the audience talk-back the evening I attended opening week.

There is a shared character or two in the two plays that follow Red, but if one is expecting a series--The Brother/Sister plays are not The Cosby Show. One can certainly see how August Wilson went on to his heavenly gig happily when he met Tarell Alvin McCraney who assisted him on his final work, “Radio Golf.”

For Wilson it was the Hill District in Pittsburgh, for McCraney it is the south pre-post Katrina--then it is not. The geography shifts between mystic specificity and mystic eternity--the only constant his Pan African aesthetic.

Born in the black town, Liberty City, Miami, a place gradually going the way of much of black America –gentrification, the playwright grew up in the projects, the eldest of four, his mother addicted to crack. His story is one that many young adults share . . . in a conversation with playwright Ernie Silva, whose solo performance work, "Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame," was performed recently at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, the writer calls himself a street kid with brains—and this "street kid" just completed a MFA from the University of Southern California in theatre art. Similarly, McCraney is a Yale graduate.

Deep. Deep and smart. Deep like the water, yet light as a feather. Herein lies the dilemma for Oya who loves a man who is not good for her soul, a soul no one can fix.

The characters are so well-fashioned yet hard to grasp, especially the principles: Oya (Lakisha May)—it’s her story and Elegba (Jared McNeill) who is a mysterious boy child, who dreams of Oya. His symbol is the moon.

Isaiah Johnson's "Shango" is just a gigolo, while Ryan Vincent Anderson's "Ogun" has a lot of heart, just not enough for his woman. Dawn L. Troupe's "Aunt Elegua" is the voice of conscious one can't always trust and Daveed Diggs's "The Egungun" is the emcee who keeps the party going until one's time it up.

The story is a simple one . . . dreams change once life happens and Oya is ready to change as well. The only problem is the one she loves doesn’t love her back. Her mother, Mama Moja (Nicole Fisher) tries to warn her, but Oya has to make her own mistakes.

In New Orleans the second line is the dirge or funeral hymn that accompanies the rhythmic march to the cemetery. To a certain degree In the Red & Brown Water is a second line ... one just doesn't know it until one reaches the end of the road and meets the ancestors or The Egungun.

In the Red & Brown Water is at the Marin Theatre Company through October 10, 2010. Visit


Post a Comment

<< Home