Studio Theatre's MARCUS

Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet is the third play in the Brother/Sister plays, a trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Marcus is about a 16-year-old boy struggling with his sexual identity, growing up without a father, and with a closed-lipped mother. Like the other Brother/Sister plays (In the Red and Brown Water and The Brothers Size), Marcus is written with a mix of colloquialisms, poetic imagery, and archetypal characters. McCraney juxtaposes realistic dialogue with a theatrical / storytelling awareness. One way this latter element manifests is through spoken stage directions: “Shaunta lyun enters, calling for her friend.” All this is what gives McCraney his unique voice, but it is also what makes his work difficult to direct. Like Pinter, McCraney’s plays require a director with the right touch in order for them to soar, a right touch that I’m not so sure I can adequately describe.

How does an actor deliver the spoken stage directions, with an objective, still in character, all the while showing that there is something different about them? How much time is needed before and after them? Does the movement happen separately from the spoken stage direction, at the same time, or does it depend on the moment? How do you deliver the stage directions as part of the rhythm of the play, rather than a halting of it?

It’s an element that was successfully explored by the director and cast of the previous McCraney play at Studio, In the Red and Brown Water. Here in Marcus, under the direction of Timothy Douglas, this element falls flat. The great majority of them seem to be delivered in the exact same way. The actor says the normal line, pauses, turns his or her head to the audience, says the stage direction, turns his or her head back, pauses, and continues. The way Douglas has his actors treat these stage directions prevents the play from gaining momentum.

The actors are talented enough to keep the production from failing. It is at times moving, funny, beautiful, dynamic. There is no doubt in my mind that McCraney is one of the next Important American Playwrights. You can feel that in this production, even if it never finds the full potential of the text.

3 stars
Through February 20


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