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The Middle Child

October 7, 2010

14-head.jpgI just got the following email from a friend about In the Red and Brown Water, the first part of The Brothers/Sisters Plays, a trilogy of dramas by Tarell Alvin McCraney (pictured). The trilogy is currently being rolled-out in three Bay Area theatres:

"By the by," wrote my friend. "Have you seen In the Red and Brown Water at Marin Theatre Company? You should. It's incredible."

I've been hearing words like "amazing" and "incredible" applied not just to this play, but also to The Brothers Size, the middle play in the trilogy, which I caught last night at The Magic Theatre. The third play, Marcus: Or the Secret of Sweet, opens at ACT on October 29.

I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy The Brothers Size at all.

I wonder if I needed to see the Marin play to appreciate the Magic one? I think not though, because I've heard that all the plays stand alone as individual units as well as a three-part whole. Plus, the issues I have with "the middle child" have little to do with thematic, narrative or character stuff that would only make sense when thought about in relation to the two plays that bookend this drama.

The play only lasts 90 minutes, but director Octavio Solis' production plays itself out in one exhausting style: Loud. The Magic Theatre is an intimate space, but the three-strong ensemble felt the need to shout their way through the entire play. There is no quiet place to reflect on any of the action. I don't appreciate McCraney's conceit of having the characters announce their movements in the third person every now and again, as if reading the stage directions out loud (e.g. "Ogun Size Exits.") What's the point? The self-conscious technique  doesn't to my mind reveal anything about the relationships between the characters or the deeper themes about brotherhood in the play. And the karaoke scene in which the brothers dance and sing to a cheesy Motown track ("Try a little Tenderness") is simply embarrassing. Finally, I'm getting a little bored of dramas featuring people of color who are either on their way to prison, in prison or recently paroled from prison. Enough with the cliches.

I'd like to get over to Marin to see the first play in the cycle before it closes. But I'm not sure I'll manage it. Perhaps at least I'll get to ACT to see the end out.

I am impressed with the way in which the three companies are collaborating on this project. It's a great way to get audiences connected to a bunch of theatres and introduce them to the work of a "hot" new playwright. And certainly, McCraney's dramas seems to be touching audiences who've seen either or both of the first two plays thus far. Perhaps there's something wrong with me?

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