Marcus; Or The Secret Of Sweet by Pillsbury House Theatre and the Mount Curve Company, performing in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio

Nathan Barlow and James A. Williams in Marcus: Or The Secret Of Sweet. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Nathan Barlow and James A. Williams in Marcus: Or The Secret Of Sweet. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Marcus dreams.

He prowls the streets of San Pere, Louisiana where his dreams and his passions – for family, sexuality (which Marcus feels with striking intensity), for his father, for blood, the moon, rain – galvanize everyone. They don’t fully understand why this young man rouses them but, Lord, he does he ever, and this provides much of the heat (and of heat there is quite a lot) in Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s Marcus; Or The Secret Of Sweet (Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company, performing in the Guthrie‘s Dowling Studio, through Oct 5).

See this intoxicating play: it will make you want to leave dreary and frigid Minnesota and move to moonstruck Louisiana, a land of sun-showers, nightime assignations on the bayou, intricate family relations, powerful friendships.

And wild dreams.

Nathan Barlow plays Marcus and he combines friendly approachability (the sweet) with dream-driven passion (the secret). This is not an easy combination to accomplish and kudos are due to Mr. Barlow and to director Marion McClinton for making the character work. McClinton povides us with terrific production: restrained, yet deeply felt. Excellent.

I greatly enjoyed James A. Williams, who plays Ogun Size with lumbering, slow-burn power; his funeral walk is unforgettable. Everyone in this play is first rate (another good reason to see it) but I have to especially single out Thomasina Petrus as Aunt Elegua. Elegua appreciates – and loves – Marcus perhaps more than anyone. He rightly craves her approval and when she departs San Pere – to escape the coming storm – we know we’re in for something frightening.

(BTW, has anyone else noticed how good Ms. Petrus is? She blew me away in TTT’s recent Dirt Sticks. She has a presence and an expressiveness that’s both lean and soft, if this makes sense. I hope to see her in other plays, and soon.)

Marcus; Or The Secret Of Sweet is the third play in a trilogy, all set in San Pere. The first play is In The Red And Brown Water; the second is The Brothers Size. Pillsbury House and The Mount Curve Co. have, to their great credit, produced all three plays. (I would dearly love to see all three plays, back-to-back; this is, alas and alack, likely not to be. Oh, well.) Of the three, Marcus is the most imagistic, the least immediately accessible – the dreamiest. This is, imo, btw, a highly appealing quality.

But: there is a serious problem in the play upon which I feel obligated to expound: McCraney’s habit of having characters speak stage directions (“Ogun enters”; “Marcus wipes away a tear”) too often robs characters of power. The action is created by the dialogue, rather than by playable physicality. Too often, this makes characterization perfunctory and flat. I sensed the actors struggling with this and this took me out of the play, creating (in me, anyway) a herky-jerky response to the material.

Still, Marcus; Or The Secret Of Sweet is a delirious brew, beautifully acted. See it. After all, winter is a-comin’ in.

For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.

 

 

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