Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In the Red and Brown Water (THEATER REVIEW)

Theater Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Innovative Play Explores the State of African-American Emotional Relationships

In the Red and Brown Water is the initial offering in a trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a 2007 graduate of the Yale School of Drama. Judging from the splash his imaginative tale is making en route to opening in Manhattan in the near future, the promising young playwright has a very bright future ahead of himself indeed.
Before I even start to talk a little about the plot, I am compelled to discuss the highly-stylized stage device Mr. McCraney employs here, namely, having each of the nine cast members mention what he or she is feeling or about to do prior to speaking or moving. For instance, a character named Joe might announce to the audience, “Joe is hungry” just before reaching for something to eat. You get the idea. This breaking of the fourth wall is a risky trick which could easily backfire, but McCraney has a way with words and is fortunate to have assembled a gifted cast capable of convincingly executing his unorthodox vision.
The story is set in the “distant present” (cute) in the mythical City of San Pere, Louisiana where an enveloping tale is about to be spun around a recent high school grad named Oya (Kianne’ Muschett). At the point of departure, we find the talented track star torn between attending an out-of-town college and sticking around to care for her terminally-ill single-mom (Heather Alicia-Simms).
Besides that pressing life-and-death issue, the duty-bound daughter also has to deal with the equally-urgent romantic overtures of Shango (Samuel Ray Gates), a jive player who’s not the type to stick around post-conquest. Oya has a more ardent admirer in Ogun (Marc Damon Johnson), but nice guys never seem to inspire reciprocal passion in a girl attracted to danger.
Since it would be unfair for me to divulge further any of the amusing developments, suffice to say that getting there is both delightful and thought-provoking every step of the way as I addresses a variety of universal themes but in a distinctly African-American fashion. Besides the aforementioned leads, kudos are in order for fellow cast members Alano Miller, Marc Damon Johnson, Nikiya Mathis, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Brian Tyree Henry, and Barnaby Carpenter. Ditto for In the Red and Brown Water’s daring director Tina Landau and its imaginative costume designer Karen Perry, since the minimalist set sans props make the characters’ outfits of that much more significance.
What a refreshing, rare treat it was for this film critic to see thespians perform in the flesh as opposed to on celluloid, especially when the company was comprised of such an impressive group from top to bottom. So, you can be sure I’m headed back to the theater to catch the second and third installments of McCraney’s inspired, innovative triskelion, which together he’s dubbed The Brother/Sister Plays.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated, with profanity, sexuality and ethnic slurs.
Venue: McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ

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