If you were looking for more of the riveting theatre that rocked Studio Theater in the first two parts of the trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney, you will be sadly disappointed since Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet is simply not as powerful as The Brothers Size (2008) or In the Red and Brown Water (2010). Not that Marcus is a light weight, wipe-out. McCraney can do enough with images, emotions and lyrical language to make a trip more than worth your while. It’s just that Marcus feels more like an exploratory exercise when compared to the other productions, and doesn’t hold its ground with the same ferocious grip as the previous “brother/sister” productions.
By now, we are getting familiar with how McCraney’s characters address the audience in third person asides offering expository narrative throughout. For some reason, the style seemed to fit better in this production and felt less cumbersome than the earlier shows. The characters’ addressing themselves by name became a comforting mantra of sort that solidified their familiarity. It also helped that some of the Yoruba-based names were introduced in earlier plays and the premise didn’t feel as contrived and strange to those initiated to McCraney’s world.
In the opening scene, J. Mal McCree as the main character Marcus Eshu, sits with a smile of peaceful contentment despite the bellowing apparition that appears at the back of the sparse set. McCree exudes a fresh-face appeal and maintains an endearing innocence in his quest to understand hints of his own budding sexuality and preferences, especially in light of dreams and hushed voices about his father.
Along with the luscious language, the exuberant energy of the piece comes from two sets of female characters who revolve around Marcus in various relationships. Rachel Holmes plays a charming beauty, Osha, a would-be love interest who stays stuck in denial that Marcus could be attracted to anything outside of her lusciousness. Playing her bud Shaunta, Shannon A. Dorsey is a bouncing bubbly hoochie-in-training getting into everybody’s business with irrepressible zeal trying to find out who is zooming who. Equally effective are two mothers played by Stephanie Berry and Bianca LaVerne Jones who express just the right amount of love, concern and frustration as their teenage children inch toward independence. As friend Terrell, Nickolas Vaughan has a fresh urban manner and moves with a fun-loving bee-bopping grace.
Marcus delves into deeply personal issues about sexual identity, questioning the existence of homo-erotic feelings, trying to understand its legacy in his family, even pondering if it existed in slavery, on slave ships and back to Africa. As if floating along the ever-present waves of the ocean, the issues crest and then recede below the surface, but the effects are fully present and real. The deft touch of director Timothy Douglas is readily apparent in his mastery of dealing with ancestral legacy of the unseen and unsaid.
The stifling moisture of the Bayou is captured beautifully on the back wall which transforms into a two-dimensional, splashless waterfall, complete with prisms of light, nicely captured by award winning set and sound designers Daniel L. Conway and Michael Giannitti.
The luscious set-up of the characters and their journeys, lyrical text and tantalizing secrets make for a beautifully rendered theatrical experience, but ultimately not a very satisfying one. All of the pieces are in place for an entertaining evening, but after awhile, Marcus’ quest to find out if his father was “sweet” loses interest and we’re vibing on the energy of the ensemble. As such the play’s tag line “Secret of Sweet” stayed just that for me, a secret.
Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet
by Tarell Alvin McCraney
produced by Studio Theater
reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running time: 2 hours