Tuesday, 7 October 2008

'In The Brown And Red Water' by Tarell Alvin McCraney

In The Red and Brown Water

A fast and loose play

by Tarell Alvin McCraney

at Young Vic

Direction - Walter Meierjohann
Design - Miriam Buether
Light - Jean Kalman
Music - Abram Wilson
Sound - Fergus O'Hare
Casting - Julia Horan CDG
Movement Direction - Ben Wright
Dialect Coach - Neil Swain
Assistant Direction - Patrice Etienne
Adjoa Andoh
Camilla Beeput
Sheri-An Davis
John MacMillan
Cecilia Noble
Javone Prince
Paul Thornley
Ony Uhiara
Ashley Walters
Abram Wilson

I have a dream...

Martin Luther King

The sweltering heat of Louisiana.

Two guys, one girl

And a love so strong it drives you mad
Oya dreams of competing alongside star athletes. She never feels so right as when she’s burning up the track.
As a girl she must choose between her dream and caring for her mother.

As a woman, she’s torn between the man she lives with and the man she can’t live without.
It’s like I got more love in my hands

Than the world got air to breathe.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

A new play by the ‘explosive’ Tarell Alvin McCraney whose The Brothers Size had Young Vic audiences on their feet.
With live music from New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Abram Wilson.

Most of the space is flooded ankle deep
A piano and a drum. A blue plastic crate.
Around the outside motley chairs on a chipboard platform. And us. Audience also above looking down on the reflecting pool. And sitting waiting in an atmosphere of buzzing excitement - the is a large group here tonight that I think are people in Young Vic's facebook group - the bank of audience opposite are reflected in a gentle shiny shimmer.

The performers enter splashing through the water to make a circle - clocking us as they arrive. Oya in the centre. A hum of male voices over which the women's voices start the story chorus style:
"they say
"i heard
"she screamed
"she cried out
... (from memory and probably not accurate)

This is a story of ordinary / extraordinary black people making and living their lives. It includes Okun Size (from McCraney's previous play The Brothers Size) and his trademark storytelling techniques - characters saying their own stage directions, which give them moments of heightened self-awareness; use of song to both add texture and to move the story forward - and in this the New Orleans jazz man Abram Wilson is an integral part of the story - adding musical comment and dueting with Legba, Oya's wisecracking surrogate brother (also from The Brothers Size?).
As well as splash and reflective shine the water gives the place a complicated wrongness: it is both fluid and heavy, it both floats and holds down, it is playful and oppressive. And the performers inhabit and use it with apparent ease, sometimes explicitly for what it actually is, sometimes as if it wasn't there or its being there was the completely normal condition. And of course it has to make us think of New Orleans after the floods.

A problem with this play though is that the moment of greatest tension when Oya has to choose staying at home with her dying mother rather than take up a running scholarship happens early, and from then we watch life happen (literally) around her as she sinks into an increasingly angry realisation of 'this is all there is': her gentle but unfired relationship with Okun Size, her ungentle but haphazard and powerless relationship with the soldier, her inability to conceive while other's babies surround her. And so somehow her final violent act of defiance misses the shock and emotional punch it should have: dramatically it makes sense, visually it convinces, and yet it fails to hit the solar plexus. This might be because for the first time Oya is required to speak her dialogue from off-stage so we know to expect something and noticing this takes us out of the story flow and we are too primed for a theatrical effect; or perhaps it is that the company are still finding their orchestration with the audience and the right build of focus and varying intensities through to this coup de theatre; or it may be the moment needs to have something more arresting from lights and sound? I liked Oya enormously and felt for her throughout so i'm still puzzling about why her moment of greatest pain left me believing but unmoved.

Nevertheless this is again fine storytelling and again at the Young Vic it's a joy to be part of such a diverse, relaxed and spontaneously responsive audience.

McCraney again makes a play that is universal and resonant and enlightening in its themes of trying to make a life less ordinary from ordinary times and moments; and how to live true to your values in a post-modern disaffected world entirely uncaring, unnoticing and ungiving to any sacrifice however virtuous.

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