Big opening for ‘Brother/Sister Plays’

An intriguing theater project — the West Coast premieres of three interlinked plays presented by three different companies — is under way, beginning with a production at Marin Theatre Company.

Young playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brother/Sister Plays” include “In the Red and Brown Water” in Marin through Oct. 10, “The Brothers Size” at Magic Theatre through Oct. 17, and “Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet” at American Conservatory Theater Oct. 29 through Nov. 21.

Located in a fictional, present-day housing project on the Louisiana bayou, the poetic, charming “Water” has the feel of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” performed by an outstanding ensemble cast, under Ryan Rilette’s simple, solid direction, on a bare stage with a single platform in the middle.

Without accompaniment, but supported by some appealing singing from the cast, the play is reminiscent of rock/gospel musicals not only in genre, but also in its ephemeral nature. There are whimsical and quicksilver emotions, but little substantial, memorable drama.

Not having seen the other two plays of the triptych, I don’t know if this characterizes the whole cycle.

Another throwback to “Our Town” comes in the form of stage directions spoken by the characters themselves (Oya: “Oya smiles”; Ogun: “Ogun exits”), both breaking the fourth wall and distancing the players from the audience. After a while, the gimmick becomes tiresome.

The names of the characters, program notes explain, come from the Yuruba culture of Nigeria. They have to do with Orishas, or spirits. Thus the central character, Oya, is the spirit of wind and storm. You don’t get the scholarly background from the play itself, and it makes little difference to the enjoyment of the performance.

Oya, played brilliantly by Lakisha May, is a young girl, a runner, who passes up the opportunity for a scholarship to be with her sick mother (Nicol Foster).

After the mother’s passing, there are three men in her life: the wild, funny juvenile Elegba (Jared McNeill, in a performance where his feet never seem to touch the ground), reliable, dull Ogun (Ryan Vicent Anderson) and macho man Shango (Isaiah Johnson).

Dawn L. Troupe is excellent as the larger-than-life Aunt Elegua. Rounding out the cast with lively performances are Jalene Goodwin, Daveed Diggs, and in two roles as the “token white,” Josh Schell.

THEATER REVIEW
In the Red and Brown Water

Where: Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays; 7:30 Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; extended through Oct. 10
Tickets: $33 to $48
Contact: (415) 388-5208, http://marintheater.org

artsentertainmentIn the Red and Brown WaterOther ArtsTarell Alvin McCraney

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