Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet is the third play in lauded playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney's trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays. Each part is intended to stand alone, but they reveal depth and connected images and characters when viewed as a collection. McCraney writes compelling dialogue, which sharpens the colorful and interesting characters he has created. The City Theatre's production presents this segment of the trilogy in an accessible and engaging manner.
In San Pere, Louisiana, a fictitious town in the Louisiana Bayou, sixteen-year-old Marcus is "sweet" (as explained in the play, slang for homosexual), and his journey of coming to terms with his sexuality and with coming out lead him to seek answers to questions he has long harbored about his father, Elegba, whom he never knew. Marcus is also trying to interpret the mysterious dreams he has; Aunt Elegua says his father also had dreams. How does this connect father and son?
Though the staging, the sometimes poetic dialogue, the vocalizing of stage directions by the actors, and the apparent references to Yoruba mythology, this may sound like a symbolic and unclear story. However, it is very contemporary and easy to follow (a "community tree" illustration in the program may help to explain relationships, especially if you've seen other parts of the trilogy, but most people will not see it until after the one-act piece is over and it is not necessary). The play also includes a good amount of humor. I did find the ending to be less of a conclusion of the evening's story, and more like a connection to an earlier story, but that is also a result of Marcus' own journey: He gets the correct information, but it's not necessarily what he thought he was looking for.
The production, directed impeccably by Robert O'Hara, is populated by a talented and engaging cast. Larry Powell is fine in the challenging role of Marcus; the bright and naive main character. Jaime Lincoln Smith is superb in the roles of the reappearing Oshoosi Size of Marcus' dreams, the very contemporary teenager Terrell, and the deceiving Shua. The women in the cast are true standouts, including Jocelyn Bioh as Marcus' kind and sweet (traditional definition) friend, and wishful girlfriend, Osha; Bria Walker as Shaunta, friend to both Marcus and Osha, and a real straight-talker; and Starla Benford as the aforementioned wizened Aunt Elegua. Maurice McRae is impressive as Ogun Size, younger brother to Oshoosi and also part of Marcus' dreams and familial history.
Tony Ferrieri has really outdone himself (which is saying something) in his mastery of the City's stage, with his multi-level wooden-planked set, where walkways criss-cross and form openings for pools of water of various sizes. Falling rain targets the pools and works, together with Andrew David Ostrowski's lighting design, to form a piece of functioning artwork. Director O'Hara guides his cast in their use of this set in an efficient and natural fashion.
Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet at City Theatre through February 13. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.