Kinetic energy charged with emotion. That describes Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water presented by The Fountain Theatre. The location of this acclaimed, vibrant, nonprofit performance space in a humble Los Angeles neighborhood foreshadows the economic reality of the play’s kaleidoscopic mix of characters traversing the stage. In this context, McCraney’s play represents a microcosm of shattered dreams and unrealized potential within the larger world.
Treading In the Brown and Red Water, the audience descends into the protagonist’s depths. Set in an impoverished section of the fictional San Pere, Louisiana, Diarra Kilpatrick’s Oya is a passionate runner who abandons a college track scholarship to take care of her dying mother, Mama Mojo, played by Peggy A. Blow. In the process of losing her dreams, she escapes into a fiery relationship with Gilbert Glenn Brown’s Shango and relinquishes the one man, Ogun, who declares his heartfelt love. As Ogun, Dorian Christian Baucum exudes an honest, inner-strength that contrasts with Shango’s impulsive personality.
Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown in “In the Red and Brown Water”
On a superficial level, the plot reads formulaic: Tragedy hits girl. Girl turns to wrong man. Girl finds herself alone. However, McCraney’s vision is anything but banal. The onstage interactions between Oya and the characters with Yoruba deity names evoke the transcendental belief that spirits interact with humans in the everyday world. Through Oya’s relationships, the audience begins to explore not just socio-economic realities, but the human desire to survive. Simultaneously visceral and intellectual, this “circular” ode to human spirit emerges then concludes in similar yet distinct ways.
Peeling away In the Red and Brown Water’s stratum is akin to unraveling textual and historical layers of a Sorrow Song. Within this context, McCraney’s drama illustrates civil rights activist W.E.B Du Bois’ analysis of slave songs as “the music of unhappy people, of the children of disappointment [which] tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wonderings and hidden ways.” Through the allusion to Yoruba deities, McCraney echoes aspects of African American culture that used to remain hidden. His knowledge of Yoruba Diaspora adds to the dialogue of African American art.
Peggy Blow as Mama Moja
While prominent art historians, such as Robert Ferris Thompson, have examined the spiritual and practical aspects of West African culture brought to the Americas through the slave trade, In the Red and Brown Water pushes beyond enumerating bodies of work which focus on elevating African American folk art from obscurity to cultural center. McCraney indirectly asks: Why stop there? He bridges the aesthetic, spiritual and socio-political gap that encompasses not just race, gender, class and sexual identity, but – most importantly – the psychological self, the whole self affected by poverty onset by institutionalized human bondage.
During the ensemble’s performance, parallels between In the Red and Brown Water and choreographer Alvin Ailey’s Revelations arise. Known for drawing on the emotional and spiritual experience of African Americans rooted within a rich musical tradition, Ailey, who McCraney cites as one of his influences, connected the past to the present. Traces of Ailey’s influence emerge as drumbeats pulsate through the heart of the play, interweaving through spiritual scores and contemporary beats. The connection between past and present compounds in an agonizing scene. In the midst of electronic house music, Oya breaks down. Tapping into her primal emotions, she ruptures into African dance, which emphasizes the beauty of African American culture ingrained within the realities of personal struggle.
Shirley Jo Finney’s discerning direction coalesces the multidisciplinary facets of Peter Bayne’s talents as composer/sound designer and Ameenah Kaplan’s choreography to evoke the presence of Yoruba culture within a contemporary play. Although Frederica Nascimento’s minimalist set appears stark, she places attention on every detail: From what resembles a divination bowl sitting under the porch to the assorted water vessels on stage. Even the plastic water bottle turned percussion instrument summons the spirit of San Pere. In the Red and Brown Water conjures ancestral spirit as literal, figurative and mystical dreams appear.
Natalie Mislang Mann has a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University and writes for Playwriting in the City.
In the Red and Brown Water Must End Feb 24th (323) 663-1525 More
Dorian Baucum and Diarra Kilpatrick and company in “In the Red and Brown Water”
If you’ve had the unforgettable experience of seeing the Fountain Theatre’s critically-acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water, you can see by his heartfelt performance of Ogun Size that Dorian Baucum is a talented actor. What you may not know is that he is also a gifted singer/songwriter.
Where are you from? How long have you lived in Los Angeles?
I grew up in Washington, D.C. I came to Los Angeles in 2008 after taking a risk and leaving Boston, Massachusetts. I decided to get my MFA in Acting from UC San Diego and came on up to LA to begin working in film and television.
What was it like auditioning for Red/Brown?
By the time I auditioned, I’d been in L.A. for four years. After hundreds of auditions, and landing some great guest star roles on television, by that time I’d made the decision that I wasn’t going to pretend I was somebody else to try to impress the Director or Producers like I did when I first came to L.A. I was going to just show what my instincts were for the role and if they liked what I brought into the room, great. If they didn’t? Well, I’d have to figure out a way to be okay with that. This art thing is sensitive. So, in being true to myself and my actor instincts, I can just let them decide if I’m right or wrong for the piece.
I celebrated when I got the role in Red/Brown. Then panic set in. Who am I fooling? I’m no actor! I’m going to ruin the whole show! (laughs) That’s the cycle I go through.
How would you describe your character of Ogun?
Ogun is a man that comes from the heart center. He’s a warrior of love. To walk through the world with an open heart can be frightening. It’s like when you’re a little kid and all you want to do is love and then somebody comes along and shakes you into the harsh realities of life. I think this is why he stutters as a young man: he is so open and vulnerable. As an older man, he turns his open heart into his strength, when he realizes that love is his gift. He realizes that his love can save people. His love is so strong that it pulls Oya from the depths of depression, for a while.
Playing him is terrifying. Vulnerability, extreme sensitivity, insecurity. All the parts of myself I’d like to pretend aren’t there were necessary to play him. It’s also taught me that it’s okay to be a peaceful warrior. It’s okay to live from the heart. People like Ogun are warriors, but they are warriors in a different way. Their gift is to bring love to the planet. It’s hard to do that when you are living on a planet with so much turmoil. You have to protect yourself, too. I think he realizes this in the end. It’s a tough balance. I think he sees that in giving his greatest gift, love, to Oya, he has to also remember that loving himself is the most important thing that he will ever do. Most people think that loving others first is the way it works, but I think it starts within, first and radiates outward.
What has the Red/Brown experience been like for you?
Challenging. In order to play Ogun, I had to open up my heart center and that meant dealing with all of the experiences in my life that made me close it off to the world in the first place. Director Shirley Jo Finney made it even harder because she was relentless in insisting that I go there. She is kind of a vortex, an oracle for the ancestors in the way that she works. When she gives directions, it’s not just coming from her. It’s coming directly from the ancestors and their mission is to open you up so that you can become who you were meant to be on your journey.
Tell us about your music career.
I’ve been singing since I was a kid. But, as an adult, music saved my life. I started creating lyrics and melodies and singing them as therapy to get me through the day. Now I volunteer at Cedars Sinai Hospital and sing to patients at bedside as a part of their music for healing program.
The influences of the all the artists I listened to growing up like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire comes through my music in a powerful way. India Arie, Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Michael Franti are all great influences.
I write acoustic and neo soul. But the lyrics – conscious lyrics meant to uplift, inspire and heal me when I need it – are really what makes my music something that the world needs to hear right now. It is very encouraging when you create a piece of art and there are people out there who say, “Yeah, I feel you!”
I’m doing it all myself as an indie artist. Connecting with as many people as possible who like my music to help me build a strong support-base. I’ve made sales in little pockets throughout the U.S., Japan, South Africa, South America, Italy and Germany. (laughs) Somebody in Japan is grooving to my music, right now! Blows my mind!
And getting a chance to work with a living legend like Brenda Lee Eager on this show opened my voice in ways that blow my mind, too. She knows where music comes from and where it needs to go. To the HEART!
What are the rewards of being an actor versus being a singer/musician? What do you get from each, as an artist?
That’s a tough one. With music, it comes straight from the heart and I get to connect with people as me, totally and completely. In acting, I connect with people, too, but it’s me playing within the confines of the realty being created, so it’s not all of me full force like it would be in music, you know? I think that there is freedom in acting, but I think there is even more freedom in music.
You have a new CD out, “Everyday Warrior”. How would you describe it?
My debut album, EVERYDAY WARRIOR: ACOUSTIC – NEO SOUL FOR YOUR SOUL is conscious uplifting music that you can kick-back and groove to, but it is also meant to help folks get through the day in a better way. I’m a music healer, urban yogi and a strong believer in the fact that music can change people’s lives for the better. So, that kind of energetic intention is behind my music.
My producer a – multi-instrumentalist San Francisco born sister, Joy Julks – is a baaaaaaaaad ass – she’s played with many of the greats like Pharoah Sanders, Angela Bofil, Marcus Miller, Sheila E., Macy Gray and many others.
What are your plans after Red/Brown closes?
I’m going to really get my music to as many hearts as possible and as always…find my next great acting project to work on. Or, let it find me!
In the Red and Brown Water Final Weeks! Must End Feb 24! (323) 663-1525 More Info
Proceeds from Dorian’s CD go to Run For Her 2013, an annual run and friendship run/walk to benefit Women’s Ovarian Cancer Research and Awareness.
“In the Red and Brown Water” (Fountain Theatre, 2012)
The Los Angeles Times has honored the The Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water by selecting it to its year-end list of Best Theatre in 2012. LA Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty, who hailed the production as “sensational” in his October review, highlighted the smash hit production in his Best Theatre of 2012 feature this Sunday as “a marvel of ensemble acting”, declaring “In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain Theatre gets my vote for production of the year.”
“All of us at the Fountain Theatre are extremely proud of this production, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The acknowledgement from the LA Times is particularly rewarding because Charles McNulty compiled his Best of 2012 list from all of the productions of plays he saw this year, across the country, on both coasts. It demonstrates that the Fountain Theatre — and theater in Los Angeles — can excel at a level as high as anywhere in the country.”
In the Red and Brown Water also topped the 2012 Best of Los Angeles Theater list on the LA Theater website Bitter Lemons. Editor Colin Mitchell hails the Fountain production as “Just pure theatrical heaven from top to bottom, my pick to win every award that it can possibly be nominated for; lead Diarra Kilpatrick is otherworldly. Still playing. Go see it. Now.”
Directed by Shirley Jo Finney, In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney stars Dorian Baucum, Peggy Blow, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary, Diarra Kilpatrick, Stephen Marshall, Simone Missick, Iona Morris, Theodore Perkins, and Maya Lynne Robinson.
The acclaimed smash-hit production has been extended to February 24th, 2013. (323) 663-1525More Info
RAVE! CRITIC’S CHOICE! “Beyond the fact that it is sensational, the Fountain Theatre’s production of “In the Red and Brown Water” by Tarell Alvin McCraney is important for two reasons: It introduces Los Angeles audiences to a dramatic poet in the process of discovering his singular voice and it shows how magnificently one of L.A.’s better small theaters can serve bold new talent.” – Los Angeles Times
Peggy Blow, Diarra Kilpatrick and company.
RAVE! “Every player scores a memorable impression, above all the luminous lead Diarra Kilpatrick, who can inhabit a simple soul yet express her intensely complicated inner torment … [Director Shirley Jo Finney] indisputably remains at the top of her game.” – Hollywood Reporter
RAVE! “A production that explodes in sounds, images, and extraordinary performances.” – Backstage
RAVE!“An astonishing accomplishment! Skilfully aided by director Shirley Jo Finney, the superb cast works poetry, myth, dance, chanting and music into the mix.” – Total Theater
RAVE! “Electrifying! … A unique piece full of dancing, singing, haunting story telling and enchanting characters … It is like nothing you have ever seen before and something that is utterly fascinating and highly entertaining.” – ALittleNightMusing
RAVE!GO! “Compelling! A visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America.” – LA Weekly
Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown
RAVE! “Perfection! Finney’s excellent directorial work … The casting is flawless.” – LA Beat
RAVE!“Unforgettable! An excellent cast!” – ArtsinLA
RAVE! “A new, important, and original voice in American theatre … a talented cast … Especially moving … heart-wrenching” – BlogCritics
Diarra Kilpatrick and company.
RAVE! “Diarra Kilpatrick is a breath of fresh air in her daring performance … Gilbert Glenn Brown nearly steals this show (at least as far as the women are concerned) with an explosive and arousing performance … terrific … hilarious … a steady cast anchored by theater veterans Iona Morris and Peggy A. Blow.” – Donloe’s Lowdown
Our Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water officially opened Saturday, October 20th. A full house, a dazzling performance, followed by a catered reception upstairs in the cafe. The cast, company and audience members enjoyed the wine and delicious food served at the post-show party, including (because of the Louisiana setting of the play) a huge tray of homemade creole jambalaya.
Enjoy the photos!
In the Red and Brown Water Now – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525More
Sharing some early rehearsal photos from our upcoming LA Premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s In the Red and Brown Water, the struggle of a young female athlete’s need to rise above the stagnation of her Louisiana housing project, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. Enjoy!
In the Red and Brown Water Oct 20 – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525