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
“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
LA Premiere Held Over to Celebrate Black History Month
“In the Red and Brown Water” (photo by Ed Krieger)
The Fountain Theatre has extended the Los Angeles premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s lusciously theatrical and boldly original In the Red and Brown Waterthrough the end of February, in honor of Black History Month. Performances will continue through December 16 as previously scheduled, then resume on January 5 for an additional eight weeks through February 24.
Lyrically weaving together elements of urban contemporary realism with West African mysticism, In the Red and Brown Water tells the tale of Oya, who can run faster than anyone—but not fast enough to escape her destiny. Her journey from the promise of youth to the complicated yearnings of womanhood is joyous, raucous, raw and brazenly beautiful.
The Fountain production has been declared “100% Sweet” by Bitter Lemons, a website that aggregates Los Angeles theater reviews, and which, in a rare editorial comment, writes, “Once again, the Fountain Theatre shows that they are the class of Los Angeles theater, big or small… this is simply what theater is meant to be.” The Los Angeles Times raves, “CRITIC’S CHOICE! Beyond the fact that it is sensational, the Fountain Theatre’s production of ‘In the Red and Brown Water’… introduces Los Angeles audiences to a dramatic poet in the process of discovering his singular voice and shows how magnificently one of L.A.’s better small theaters can serve bold new talent.” The LA Weekly agrees, “GO! A visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America,” and Back Stage calls In the Red and Brown Water “a production that explodes in sounds, images, and extraordinary performances.”
It took the Fountain three years to obtain rights to produce McCraney’s play, which first exploded on the theater scene with a production at New York’s Public Theatre in 2009. On his personal Facebook page, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty posts, “I love [the Fountain Theatre] production — even more than the one at the Public Theater. LA Theater is not to be underestimated!”
In the Red and Brown Water is helmed by multiple award-winning director Shirley Jo Finney. Diarra Kilpatrick stars as Oya in “a lead performance that is so good you wonder if somehow the designers may have concocted some kind of CGI image in front of your eyes instead of a living breathing human being; her movement, range of emotion and depth of passion is so indescribable that it will literally take your breath away.” (Colin Mitchell, Bitter Lemons). The ensemble also includes Dorian Christian Baucum, Peggy A.Blow, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary, Stephen Marshall, Simone Missick, Iona Morris, Theodore Perkins and Maya Lynne Robinson.
Performances ofIn the Red and Brown Water continue through February 24 on Thursdays (through December 13 only),Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm (dark December 17 through January 4). Call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
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