Reviewed by Judy Richter
Now that its production of "Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet" is up and running, American Conservatory Theater completes the Bay Area staging of Tarell Alvin McCraney's remarkable trilogy, "The Brother/Sister Plays." This staging also marks an unprecedented collaboration by three major companies. Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley started the trilogy with "In the Red and Brown Water" earlier this fall, followed shortly by "The Brothers Size" at Magic Theatre in San Francisco. The ACT production marks the professional world premiere of the unabridged "Marcus." A shorter version was presented as part of the trilogy seen all at once at The Public Theater and McCarter Theatre Center.
"Marcus" focuses on the 16-year-old black title character, played by Richard Prioleau, who has many questions: Is he gay? What was his long-absent father like? What do his dreams mean? When asked about his father, the adults in his life refuse to answer. When his friends, who all assume he's gay, try to get him to acknowledge that he is, he demurs. When he tells the 70-year-old Elegua (Margo Hall) about his dreams, which involve rain and water, she's upset. He doesn't tell her about the mysterious man in white who also appears in those dreams.
Like the two plays before it, "Marcus" takes place in a housing project in the fictional Louisiana bayou town of San Pere. McCraney calls its time period "the distant present." Presumably it takes place shortly before the devastating Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. McCraney tells his tale with humor, which is adroitly delivered by director Mark Rucker and his able cast.
Prioleau is outstanding as Marcus experiences a range of emotions during the play. His two best friends, both girls, are Osha (Shinelle Azoroh) and Shaunta Iyun (Omozé Idehenre). Another friend is the impish Terrell (Jared McNeill, who played Marcus' father, the bisexual Elegba, in "In the Red and Brown Water.") All three adult women -- Elegua; Oba, his mother; and Shun, Osha's mother -- are played by and clearly differentiated by Hall. Gregory Wallace nicely underplays Ogun Size, the only character who appears in all three plays. Tobie L. Windham completes the cast as Oshoosi Size, Ogun's brother, and as Shua, a visitor who tries to seduce Marcus. Windham also played Oshoosi in "The Brothers Size."
Loy Arcenas keeps the scenery simple, while Alexander V. Nichols' projection design, James F. Ingalls' lighting and Andre Pluess' sound design combine to create more specific settings, moods and times. Costumes are by Lydia Tanji.
Although one doesn't necessarily need to have seen the two previous plays in order to enjoy "Marcus," they do help a great deal in understanding relationships in the trilogy. A family tree in the program is quite helpful, too.
Thanks to the collaboration by MTC, Magic and ACT, the Bay Area has been introduced to a bright new voice in the American theater. We can look forward to more as he matures into his 30s and beyond.