“In the Red and Brown Water,” is one part of a trilogy of stories written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a Yale School of Drama graduate. The Brother/Sister Trilogy, as McCraney calls it, explore a mythological world set inside the Louisiana Projects; a habitat heavily defined by its Yoruba culture and spiritual practices.
Director Marion McClinton takes this rich storyline and leads us on a dance through femininity, adulthood, loss, heartache and despair, surrounding the world of Oya, a young woman who is internally battered by the planks of her circumstances.
Oya’s greatest dream is to go to college and run track; a road filled with a limitless outcome for any talented athlete. However, as the sour dew of fate rolls in, her dreams change when her mother Mama Moja gets sick. Oya pauses on her future, and opts to stay by her mothers bedside. Death soon takes Mama Moja, and without her mother’s guidance, or her running shoes to combat any void, she finds herself dangling between what she once had, and where she longs to be: in the arms of a womanizer named Shango— a choice that soils a real loving heart from an unlikely suitor named Ogun Size.
Nothing about “In the Red and Brown Water,” is simple, but its complexities are presented with such ease, that taking in the obstruction offers a refreshing ride. Opting for the “less is more” approach, McClinton’s wise choices in direction, don’t allow for any of these messages to get lost in set design or excessive props. With only a few lawn chairs cuffing the side of the stage, and others sprinkled amidst the backdrop, he creates a palette of only words, lighting, skillful acting, and an incredible storyline, which arouses the senses and ignites our own imaginations to carry us on this ride.
Christiana Clark, gives the performance of her life as the troubled Oya, a role that calls for the deterioration of a soul, which upon dawn, once held an ocean of promise. Sonja Parks plays Mama Moja, Greta Oglesby plays Aunt Elegua, Ansa Akyea as Shango, James A. Williams as Ogun Size, John Catron as O Li Roon, and Gavin Lawrence as Elegba, a character executed so well that he will easily steal your attention every time he steps on stage.
There’s a lot to learn from watching “In the Red and Brown Water,” but the lesson is not for taking, its for the creation of a higher understanding. Much of what you’ll see will lead to an evening of great debate, and a resonance of pleasure. But one things for certain, that is as clear as an iris can offer, “In the Red and Brown Water,” is not a play to be missed, or read about thereafter. It is to be seen and heard, as it is one of the most powerful pieces of entertainment that has ever graced a stage in Minnesota. To miss it, would be to deny yourself nirvana.
In the Red and Brown Water is playing through June 5th at the Guthrie Theater. For more information: http://www.guthrietheater.org/whats_happening/shows/2010/red_and_brown_water