PRIMAL POWER Miranda Craigwell is mesmerizing in In the Red and Brown Water, the first play in the Brother/Sister trilogy.
Symbolism blows over swampland in The Brother/Sister Plays, a hypnotic trilogy making its area debut courtesy of Company One (at the BCA Plaza through December 3). The interrelated triptych is the work of 31-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney, who grew up in the tough Liberty City section of Miami and went on to become International Writer in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Set in the fictional Louisiana outback of San Pere, where a housing project butts up against the bayou, the plays fuse a modern African-American community coping with life, lust, and limited options with the interactive spirits of Yoruba cosmology known as the Orisha. Bearing with feathery lightness and raucous humor this heavy metaphorical freight, the characters unfold their stories over two decades and three generations, all of it cupped in a beckoning, if sometimes profane, word music. Since their debuts between 2007 and 2009, The Brother/Sister Plays have garnered several awards and their fair share of praise. But Company One is just the second troupe, after Chicago's Steppenwolf, to take on the trilogy in its entirety.
Part One, In the Red and Brown Water (helmed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian), centers on Oya (the mesmeric Miranda Craigwell), a high-school track star whose name derives from the Orisha of wind and storms. Running is her ticket out of San Pere, and it is duly offered by the scouting "Man from State." But Oya, choosing to stay by her dying mother, will not escape. Her fate is ominously foretold, in this ritual-steeped play that loops eerily in on itself, in the dream of a candy-craving child named Elegba(the trickster Orisha, played with sly innocence and willful appetite by the terrific Hampton Fluker).
Subtitled "A Fast and Loose Play on Spanish Yerma," Lorca's tragedy of a barren woman driven to madness and murder, In the Red and Brown Water diverts Oya's ambition to baby-making, as both a testament to her womanliness and a way of having something of her own to love. But neither of her liaisons — with the womanizing Shango, who raises her sexual temperature, or the stolid Ogun Size, who warms her with his love — bears reproductive fruit, and she must choose a more desperate way to make a gift of herself.
The muscular, less dreamlike The Brothers Size (which forms a double bill with Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, under the direction of Summer L. Williams) leaps forward 12 years to find Ogun Size struggling to tame his younger brother, Oshoosi, recently released from prison. Stirring the pot once more is Elegba, with his gifts for song and seduction. About unbreakable bonds and the ways in which we trap and liberate one another, this is perhaps the most compelling panel of the triptych. And its fine cast (Johnnie McQuarley, James Milord, and Fluker), tramping and huffing between taut scenes, turns it into something between boot camp and a dark night of the soul.
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