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In the Red and Brown Water

a World Premiere
by Tarell Alvin McCraney

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Hertz Stage [WEBSITE]
ID# 2697

SHOWING : February 01, 2008 - February 24, 2008



Modern beats play against mythic rhythms in this radiant story of one girl’s passage into womanhood. Celebrating the legacy of African and Caribbean folklore, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s poetic new play crafts a sexy, intoxicating portrait of a dynamic young woman named Oya. As mythic and epic as it is immediate and passionate, In the Red and Brown Water is an unforgettable evening of theatre that will introduce Atlanta audiences to one of the great new American playwrights of the 21st century.

Director Tina Landau
Set Designer Mimi Lien
The Egungun Will Cobbs
Shango Rodrick Covington
Mama Moja/ The Women Who Reminds You Chinái J. Hardy
Elegba Jon Michael Hill
Ogun Andre Holland
O Li Roon/ The Man From State Daniel May
Oya Kiannè Muschett
Shun Carra Patterson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Slaves to Archetypes
by Dedalus
Thursday, February 14, 2008
In the beginning was the Tale.

And the People looked upon the tale, and called it good, saying unto themselves, This is our Tale. This is who we are.

And it came to pass that the People were taken in bondage to a faraway land, and held for generations without number.

And Still the Tale was in their

And the People looked upon the tale, and called it good, saying unto themselves, This is our Tale. This is who we are.

And it came to pass that the People were taken in bondage to a faraway land, and held for generations without number.

And Still the Tale was in their dreams and in their blood and in their lives. The Tale was their lifeline to a past when they were free and at one with the World and with the Tale.

And through the years of bondage, the Tale was retold times without end until it was relived times without end.

And it came to pass that the People rose from their bondage, and carried the Tale with them even unto the present day.

And, even unto the present day, the Tale has taken life in the heart and memory of one Tarell Alvin McCraney, who, through the alchemy and ritual of the theatre, has fashioned the Tale into an entertainment, a stylized foray into the Archetypes of his people, a dreamlike visualization of the Tale in the lives of contemporary dreamers.

And the judges of the Kandeda Young Playwrights Festivals looked upon the Tale as retold by young McCraney and judged it good.

And it is now before us.

And for fifty glorious minutes, it is more than good, it is extraordinary. Even those of us not of the People revel in the sights and sounds of the Tale, of the young and driven Oya, of her love for Mama Moja, of her courtship by Shango and Ogun, of her friendship with the trickster Elegba, of her joy of life and love and even sorrow. Even those of us not of the People relish the fusion of myth and life and humanity, of stylized movement and music, of the Tale lived again in the lives and dreams of men and women who could be our neighbors, who should be our friends.

But, it also came to pass that the playwright became a slave to the Tale. His characters became slaves to the Tale. This Archetype carried within it the seeds of a new bondage. The Tale forced the Oya and Shango and Ogun and Elegba of today onto a narrative pathway at odds with their modern characters and temperaments. In the fifty final not-so-glorious minutes, Oya behaves not like the Oya we have come to know and love, but like a less-than-mythic mans idea of woman woman defined only as she who bears children. Those of us not of the People look upon her and ask, Why do you spurn the loyal Ogun for the dream of Shango, a less-than-ideal suitor you previously mastered? Those of us not of the People look upon her and ask, Why do consider fleeting passions of more merit than the sacrifices made by you and for you? Those of us not of the People look upon her and ask, Why are you a slave to a Tale that forces you into a role defined solely by your child-bearing abilities. We look upon your final deed, an action that echoes the path forced upon you by the Tale, and quake at its violence, and tremble at its Red and Brown beauty, and rise to our feet, applauding at the theatrical passion that has driven you to it. But, after the spectacle has settled, we can only ask Why?

Those of us, not of People, leave the theatre, and feel sadness at a People once again enslaved, enslaved by a cruel Tale that demands its bloody sacrifice and forces even contemporary dreamers onto a path at odds with their characters and deeds and times and the lives they have created for themselves.

In the beginning was the Tale. In the end was the Tale. The playwright and the People and those whose lives tell it, are still its slaves.

And those of us, not of the People, can only mourn, and, like the omniscient observers in Platos cave, leave the slaves to find their own way.

-- Brad Rudy (

2/14/2008 Addendum In my feeble attempt to give this pseudo-review a mythological attempt, I didnt give myself an opportunity for a more thoughtful analysis. In the week since I sent this to Theatre Buzz, Ive come to believe that that is a disservice to Mr. McCraney and this cast, so here are a few non-pastiche thoughts.

I think its a very compelling endeavor to marry archetypes with stories something George Lucas recognized with Star Wars, but forgot with its ill-conceived sequels. Terrence McNally tried it with Corpus Christi, but was stymied by the popular misconception that he was writing about Jesus rather than writing about how the Jesus Archetype can and is repeated throughout the years.

In this case, Act One works so well because the marriage is so tight the archetypes reveal the characters which make the archetypes compelling to us. Were not familiar with the Oya mythos, so this is all new and compelling to us. The stylized dialog (which functions to make the Story a major character), the music, the compelling and energetic performances all make a seamless experience, an dreamlike and compelling journey that takes us into Intermission thirsting for more.

In my opinion, Act II takes the characters to a place where there is a disconnect between the mythos and its modern counterparts. The characters are then put in the awkward position of acting and reacting as their archetypical counterparts would, not as they themselves would. Its difficult to go with the flow of the final violent act, when to our modern eyes, it seems so ill-motivated and out-of-proportion to its root. It seems, as I hope I made clear in my original pastiche, contrived the modern Oya as slave to her Mythic Archetype.

Were seeing this play after its been cast in stone by the playwright (and, in fact, the script will be published in next months American Theatre), so suggestions now may be pointless but that doesnt mean I wont make them (insert archetype smiley-con here).

I think the ending would work if a modern counterpoint to the Dream Imagery is found more examples, perhaps, of Dreams manifesting into the daily lives of the characters, or more examples of out-of-proportion deeds that resonate with dreams or memories. I know this sounds fairly nebulous (and the entire dreamlike quality of the production may do this more than Im describing), but something is needed to make the ending make more sense.

Another suggestion would be to blur the lines between Dream and Reality. If we see more examples of Oyas dreams acted out, perhaps then we can accept the end as manifestation of a wish or fear or dream, rather than as an actual deed. (Or, you want to get really complex, as an actual deed Oya confuses for a wish or fear or dream.)

Its suggested in the second act that Oyas choice between Shango and Ogun is predicated on Oguns inability to give her children. I think this needs a little work to a contemporary audience, this emphasis on fertility seems a bit contrived, given the choices available. I think this aspect of Oya needs to be developed more fertility is more a quality of rural archetype than the urban ones on display here what is the appeal of children to these characters? How does Oyas devotion to her own mother feed into this sense of loss she experiences? It may be as simple as ratcheting up her need for children that would make her final deed make dramaturgical sense.

I hope my comments here dont scare you away from this show. It is one of the most innovative productions Ive seen in a while, and the marriage of Myth and Narrative is natural and organic. That being said, if the Myth sends the narrative in a direction that seems wrong, contrived, or forced, it may be that the Myth itself is the problem, not the contemporary take on it. Archetypes often fade from memory for a very good reason they no longer answer the personal or societal need that gave rise to them in the first place.

All this being said, this production makes me look forward to more work from Mr. McCraney, and this show will resonate in your memory long after its over.



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