In The Red And Brown Water


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Drawing on Garcia Lorca, West African culture and The Hood in a single work is the challenge Tarell Alvin McCraney has taken on in IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER, now in its Los Angeles premiere at the Fountain Theatre. The heavily symbolic play, part of a trilogy, has been seen in New York, London and Chicago (where the Chicago Tribune called McCraney "the hottest young playwright in America").

Set in an unnamed housing project on the edge of a bayou, IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER deals with the fate of a young woman named Oya (in the Yoruban cosmology, the goddess of the Niger River, wind and storms). Oya (who is played by the extraordinary Diarra Kilpatrick) is lovely, spirited and captivating. A high-school athlete, she is offered a track scholarship by a university coach (Stephen Marshall). It's a ticket out of the ghetto which Oya unfortunately can not punch, opting instead to care for her ailing mother (Peggy A. Blow).

When Mama Mojo dies a year later, Oya is left to cope with life on her own, though she does have a goofy best friend, Elegba (Theodore Perkins), who tries valiantly to help her. Oya, though, has an unfortunate and fatal flaw: a hankering for the local stud, Shango (Gilbert Glenn Brown). Although she's warned off him by her feisty, street-smart Aunt Elegua (Iona Morris), Oya is a prisoner of her emotional needs.

The conflict between Oya's innocence and Shango's cynicism--good and evil, as it were--provides WATER with much of its drama. Oya's eventual downfall is also hastened by her deep-rooted maternal urges. Here is where the influence of Lorca's Yerma can be felt: as Oya becomes more and more desperate to become a mother, the greater the price she will pay for her failure to conceive.

The outline of McCraney's story suggests realism, but the playwright--skilfully aided by director Shirley Jo Bonney and the superb cast--keeps working poetry, myth, dance, chanting and music into the mix. The result is a play that feels both new and old, familiar and ground-breaking. It's an astonishing accomplishment.

(Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. 323-663-1525 or