Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet
Also see Susan's review of Let Me Down Easy
The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, returns to the rapturous language and dreamlike action of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney with its beautiful production of Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, the final part of the playwright's "Brother/Sister Plays" trilogy. Like the earlier installments, The Brothers Size and In the Red and Brown Water, this play offers generous rewards to the viewer who makes the effort to get inside it.
Much of the fascination of McCraney's writing comes from the mélange of source material. He blends figures and stories from African myth with more naturalistic scenes of African-American life in the southern United States to achieve a unique and captivating vision.
Marcus Eshu (J. Mal McCree) is a restless young man of 16, living in the isolated (fictional) bayou town of San Pere, Louisiana, and trying to figure out his life. His mother (Bianca LaVerne Jones) tries to keep him under control, but neither she nor anyone else in town will answer his questions about his long-dead fatherwho was an important presence in the earlier plays. The steamy late August heat, and the pressure of a hurricane about to make landfall, throw the personal dramas into higher relief.
The word "sweet," as used here, is an African-American synonym for gay: Marcus refuses to admit whether he is or not, but wise old Elegua (Stephanie Berry) tells him that African-American gay menincluding his own fathermay also have psychic gifts. Since Marcus has a recurring dream involving a man he's never met and a raging storm, he's interested in this connection.
Director Timothy Douglas has created a tight ensemble out of his eight performers, many of whom play more than one role. With wide, guileless eyes and defiant posture, McCree conveys the bravado of a boy searching for himself and, ultimately, a man who understands his place in the world. Other standouts are Jones as Marcus' long-suffering mother; Shannon A.L. Dorsey as the one friend with whom Marcus can relax; and Lance Coadie Williams in two roles, neither of whom is what he appears to be.