Tony Ferrieri’s stage design magic at City Theatre plunges you into a dream-haunted time and place. This is the setting and the environment for Tarell Alvin McCraney’s new play Marcus: or the Secret of Sweet, a visually fascinating and compelling experience.
Like McCraney’s play The Brothers Size seen at City Theatre about two years ago, it dwells on West African-named Louisiana black people in an intensely close community. In this case it primarily concerns a 16 year old boy Marcus, intent on understanding who he is, and whether or not he is “sweet” which in this case means gay. He also seems to believe that if he can resolve the meaning of a puzzling, recurring dream, he will awaken to thorough self-awareness.
As with McCraney’s The Brothers Size, multiple meanings and symbols lie within the choices of words and names. And the words in this play remain complex and, to some of us, especially white folks, as if reflecting another culture. Consequently the dialogue comes across as not always easy to understand. Yet quite a number of people in the almost completely white audience at Saturday the January 29th's afternoon performance clearly enjoyed the comic lines. And, despite a gloomy, evocative setting, the play and the acting vibrate with warm vitality.
This play is actually part of a trilogy which includes The Brothers Size and evokes some of the same characters. Plus the program book has very informative, helpful background information. As for what happens, it seems less to concern events and developments and mostly focuses on how Marcus tries to find himself and how he deals with that. I question whether being aware of and embracing one’s own homosexuality is a definition of a complete personality. But, in this case, being a young boy in a community which might turn against him because of such orientation, you can understand how that might be important to Marcus’ not yet fully developed sense of self. But I continue to feel it’s time for playwrights to move on beyond writing about what it means to be gay, a time when gayness is becoming more and more open and a diminishing issue.
As for the acting, CMU grad Larry Powell’s totally convincing portrayal of Marcus conveys all the various flavors of sweetness implied. And among the five other actors, each from out of town, Jaime Lincoln Smith leaves very strong and special impressions in three clearly separate and well-defined men’s roles. Plus director Robert O’Hara has done wonders with the staging to make it as fluid as the floating water framing the story and as special and unpredictable as misty showers falling from above.
Marcus, of The Secret of Sweet continues through February 13th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Tickets at 412/431.CITY (2489) or CityTheatreCompany.org.