Tarell Alvin McCraney’s original comedy/drama, In The Red and Brown Water, is currently enjoying a run at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, through Dec. 16, 2012.
The show, directed by Shirley Jo Finney, is the first of McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, chronicling the coming of age of Oya, as she quickly develops from a young girl to a woman after the death of her supportive and ever-present mother.
The show, bursting with Yoruban influences, including characters with Yoruban names, is set in the housing projects of a fictional San Pere, Louisiana, where a colorful cast of characters continue to use the sacred rituals and traditions of ancient West African religions.
Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who is an impressive and promising runner with a chance for a track scholarship at State, must weave her way through family struggle, womanhood, and the affections of two starkly different men as she makes her way through the murky waters of life. When her mother becomes ill, Oya forgoes the scholarship – hoping it will still be available when her mother gets well. Unfortunately, her mother passes away and so, too, does the scholarship, leaving Oya to live an ordinary life.
This is a unique show showered in the rare concept of call and response from the audience as the actors articulate their individual stage directions. It sometimes makes for some pure and authentic hilarity.
The play works well due not only to the directorial prowess of Finney, who keeps the staging tight and fluid by using space other than the stage, but because of a steady cast anchored by theater veterans Iona Morris and Peggy A. Blow.
Morris has steadily expanded her theatrical repertoire over a 25-year career. Most recently she gave an emotional and stirring performance in Holding On –Letting Go. In this show she plays the sassy, nosey and vampish Aunt Elegua, the godmother of Oya. After Oya’s mother passes, Elegua steps in to give her goddaughter some guidance. Morris sashays across the stage and shakes things up with a comical and focused performance.
Blow, who will soon be seen in the 2013 feature film Gary’s Walk, is a joy to watch as Mama Mojo, the mother of Oya. Her acting is effective and emotional.
Diarra Kilpatrick is a breath of fresh air in her daring performance as Oya, a young woman trying to make her way through the labyrinth called womanhood. Without her mother to guide her through life’s maze Oya can’t escape the brutal realities of life, love and social relationships.
Dorian Christian Baucum offers a vulnerable, quiet strength to the character of Ogun, one of Oya’s suitors.
Gilbert Glenn Brown nearly steals this show (at least as far as the women are concerned) with an explosive and arousing performance as Shango, the neighborhood bad boy that gets under Oya’s skin.
Theodore Perkins is hilarious in the role of Elegba, a young man with a lot on his plate that finds a good friend in Oya.
Simone Missick and Maya Lynne Robinson are terrific as the neighborhood gossips and busy bodies.
Stephen Marshall (O Li Roon) and Justin Chu Cary (Egungun) give good supporting performances.
Kudos to Finney, the cast and the technical crew and various designers: Brenda Lee Eager (vocal coach) and JB Blanc (dialect coach), Frederica Nascimento (set), Ameenah Kaplan (choreography), José Lopez (lighting), Peter Bayne (sound) Naila Aladdin Sanders (costumes) and Misty Carlisle (props).
In the Red and Brown Water, Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie), LA 90029; Thu-Sat 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Through Dec. 16. Tickets: $30-34. www.FountainTheatre.com. 323-663-1525.
On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable) O (OK) and E (excellent), In The Red and Brown Water gets an O (Ok).