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Marcus; of the Secret of Sweet

a Drama
by Tarell Alvin McCraney

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4703

SHOWING : March 28, 2015 - April 26, 2015



As an epic storm gathers in the distance, the currents of young Marcus’ life swirl toward a passage of self-discovery. As he comes to grips with his own burgeoning sexual identity, Marcus must look to the secrets of his family’s past to understand his future. From the staggeringly talented playwright of "Choir Boy" and "In the Red and Brown Water," this uncommonly magical play will draw you into a world like nothing you’ve ever seen on the AE stage.

Director Karen Robinson
Marcus Terry Guest
Ogun Enoch King
Shua Shon Middlebrooks
Eleguah Bernadine Mitchell
Oba/Shun Tiffany Denise Mitchenor
Osha Falashay Pearson
Terrell Avery Sharpe
Oshoosi Olubajo Sonubi
Shaunta Iyun Ashley Tate
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Style Trumps Substance
by playgoer
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s "Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet" is thin on substance and heavy on style. In the first act, Marcus wonders "Am I gay ("sweet")? Am I like my father? What does my dream about a man in heavy rain mean? In the second act, we get the answers. Spoiler alert: the meaning of the dream doesn’t have a great deal of relevance to Marcus’ story.

The slender plot is tricked out with a number of characters surrounding Marcus (Terry Guest): his best friend (Falashay Pearson), his mother and the mother of his best friend (Tiffany Denise Mitchenor), another female friend (Ashley Tate), a couple of school jocks (Avery Sharpe and Shon Middlebrooks), the brother of his father’s best friend (Enoch King), an old aunt (Bernardine Mitchell), and the man in the dream (Olubajo Sonubi). The characters are deftly drawn and energetically played, but in dramatic terms they do little but reiterate the same questions Marcus has asked himself.

After the act break, the set-up moves quickly into some plot-specific activity answering the question "Am I gay?" in an unequivocal fashion and adding in some conflict between Marcus and his best friend. After that, we get a long monologue from Marcus, then the revelation of what the dream means, centered on the character of Ogun (Enoch King). It’s a bit of a sweetly sentimental resolution for Ogun, who never felt he could comfort his brother, but it doesn’t illuminate Marcus’ condition. Marcus acts as the deus ex machina for Ogun’s story when we were led all along to believe that the play was about Marcus. The rain part of Marcus’ dream is interpreted to mean that a strong storm is coming to the bayou, but that plot point seems to pop up at the start of the second act, then just fizzles away at the end. I didn’t find this to be a satisfying conclusion to the play.

The language tends to be on the poetic side, and sounds occasionally artificial in the mouths of most of the actors, giving the feel of a college production, particularly since the majority of the cast are playing teenagers. Only the seasoned pros (Tiffany Denise Mitchenor and Bernardine Mitchell) make their characters inhabit the play fully. That isn’t to say that the others don’t impress under Karen Robinson’s direction, but I didn’t quite buy into their portrayals completely. There’s still some fine work. Enoch King has a very nice scene at the end, portraying real emotion, and Terry Guest keeps us invested in Marcus throughout.

The physical production is impressive. Kat Conley has designed a half-oval, stepped space for the thrust stage, bordered by water features and backed by Spanish moss-like gray hangings over a black background, with the color scheme continuing onto the painted stage. Rebecca M. K. Makus’ lighting design illuminates the action nicely, and Joel Abbot’s sound design adds effective background music (although I found it difficult to understand occasional words from actors facing away from my section of the three-sided audience). The modern-day costumes, designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, don’t add a lot to the production, with the exception of three lighted feather boas. Becca Potter’s choreography and Oral Moses’ singing consultation add to the production in a fairly natural way.

Director Karen Robinson’s blocking uses the thrust space effectively, never positioning an actor with his/her back to the audience for any extended period of time. That keeps the action moving at a faster pace than the plot. That makes this play easy to watch. It’s entertaining and poetic and evocative, but not substantive to my way of thinking. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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