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Theatre Review (LA): In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney

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In Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play In the Red and Brown Water is now playing at the Fountain Theatre, we meet a new, important, and original voice in American theatre. The Fountain, known as an award-winning multicultural venue for theatre and dance, has embraced this play and given it its Los Angeles premiere.

In the play, McCraney weaves together elements of contemporary realism with West African mysticism. The story traces a young girl’s journey into womanhood. We first meet Oya as a spirited youngster living in a housing project in the fictional Bayou city of San Pere, Louisiana. She can run faster than anyone around, but when she gets the chance for a scholarship to State University, she passes it by for a year because of her mother’s health issues. When her mother dies the scholarship no longer exists, so she embarks on a path to redefine her life without either her mother or the prospect of becoming a champion runner.

As with many young women, her attention turns to men. We first meet the childlike Elegba, who lives for candy and provides much of the comedy of the piece. His name, like the other characters’, is based on a god of the Yoruba people of West Africa, and it means the trickster. Another important man in Oya’s life is Shango, a muscular stud whom she finds hard to resist. The third man in her life is Ogun the stutterer who loves her dearly but can’t really compete with Shango in Oya’s eyes. Both men end up disappointing her and she is left with a longing for a baby she can love. Her cries of despair at the end of the play are heart-wrenching.

Director Shirley Jo Finney has populated the play with a talented cast. Especially moving are Diarra Kilpatrick as Oya and Theodore Perkins as Elegba. Others in the cast include Dorian Christian Baucum, Peggy A. Blow, Iona Morris, Maya Lynne Robinson, Simone Missick, Gilbert Glenn Brown, and Justin Chu Cary. The story unfolds on a minimalist set by Federica Nascimento and is punctuated by sung music. In the Red and Brown Water will play at the Fountain Theatre until Dec. 16.

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