Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Outline of the Post on "In the Red and Brown Water" That I Don't Have Time to Actually Write

OK, it's been two weeks since I saw In the Red and Brown Water at Marin Theater, and even though it's closed, I wanted to write about it, because I loved The Brothers Size so much and Tarell Alvin McCraney is important. But I have to accept that I don't have time to write the full, formal post that I had planned. Herewith, the outline of what I was going to write:
  • Apology for the blog post being mostly a comparison of Red and Brown Water to Brothers Size, and not a consideration of Red and Brown Water in its own right; also, apology for spending more time on criticism than commendation.
  • Acknowledgement that, while there was good stuff in Red and Brown Water, I preferred Brothers Size.
  • Citation of other sources to back me up on this. Sam Hurwitt's reservations with Red and Brown Water: "It's hard to connect with [Oya, the heroine]. She's a cipher, full of promise unexpressed as she wastes away in nameless discontent." Lynn Ruth Miller: "The dance was powerful, the presentation disturbing and strong and the acting wonderful to see and yet…and yet…were those characters people we know? Did they respond to the forces that threatened them in ways we understand? In contrast, Magic Theatre’s production of The Brothers Size, magnificently directed by Octavio Solis, is immediate, compelling and unforgettable because it is a story that reflects every one of us. Every character is so real, we feel he is us on that stage, agonizing about human loyalties, sexuality, right and wrong."
  • Recognition that Red and Brown Water is a more complex/ambitious play than Brothers Size, but that also means that there are more ways it could go wrong. Discussion of how McCraney has some difficulty handling the passage of time and the sequence of events in this play. Time passes really quickly in Act I (Oya's mother is mildly ill one moment and dead the next; by the end of the act, Oya has already taken two lovers), and by comparison, not a lot happens in Act II.
  • Reference to my "Law of Timespans": a story that covers a short period of time is more likely to be good than one that takes place over a long period of time. This could also be extended to the number of characters/plotlines encompassed by a work of narrative art. Brothers Size covers about a month, and has 3 characters; Red and Brown Water covers several years and has 9 actors, some of whom play multiple roles. This is why Red and Brown comes across as "promising" while Brothers Size comes across as a more complete work of art.
  • Mythical, mystical, ritualistic Red and Brown Water versus more naturalistic and "muscular" Brothers Size. Is it just a personal predilection that I prefer the naturalistic and streamlined play, or is one storytelling mode inherently "better" than the other? After all, theater did develop out of myth and ritual...
  • Commendation of McCraney's decision to name his characters after the Afro-Cuban deities, the orishas, and have them take on the personality characteristics of their namesake deity. When I first heard of the Brother/Sister plays, a year or so ago, I thought that this sounded pretentious. But, in the same way that I have come around to loving plays based on Greek myths, I've come around to McCraney's use of the Afro-Cuban mythos. I like the extra layer it gives the play.
  • Suggestion that McCraney's decision to make In the Red and Brown Water a loose adaptation of Lorca's play Yerma might have been one layer too many, though. Like Sam Hurwitt, I didn't really find the Yerma element of the play -- Oya's thwarted desire to have a child -- very convincing.
  • Another consideration of McCraney's device of having the characters speak their stage directions aloud. Because there are more characters in Red and Brown Water than Brothers Size, the characters have to do this more frequently, and it does start to wear on you after a while. Also, many of the actors in the Marin production seemed to speak their stage directions almost apologetically, as if they didn't like having to say these lines. The exception was Aldo Billingslea, who played the virile warrior Shango. Every time he came onstage and said "Enter Shango," he was confident, bold, and perfectly in character.

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