‘Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet’
Through Feb. 13
1501 14th Street, N.W.
Well, is he or isn’t he? Whether 16-year-old Marcus Eshu is gay, or “sweet” as it’s sometimes called down south, seems to be the question on a lot of people’s minds. Whether the interested parties truly want a straight answer is another matter.
After mounting productions of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” and “In the Red and Brown Water,” Studio Theatre is now closing the gay playwright’s “The Brother/Sister Plays” terrific trilogy with “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet,” featuring a dynamite eight-person cast ably directed by Timothy Douglas.
Both a coming-of-age and a compelling coming out story, “Marcus” is set in fictional San Pere, Louisiana on the eve of a Katrina-like storm. When we meet the title character (convincingly underplayed by J. Mal McCree), he has yet to reveal his true sexuality to his loud-but-loyal best friend Shaunta Iyun (Shannon A.L. Dorsey) who’s itching to learn his secret, or to Osha (Rachel Holmes) the hood beauty who’d like to up their relationship to romance status.
Despite uncertainties, Marcus slowly but surely grows more certain about his attraction to men. In a cleverly done scene played to the faint erotic groans of Donna Summers’ “Love to Love You, Baby,” he imagines that the sexy straight boy (Nickolas Vaughan) clamoring for test answers in Latin class is actually vying for his sexual favors.
But of course day fantasies soon lose their novelty and Marcus is ready for something real, so the first chance he gets, he hooks up with the more experienced Shua (Lance Coadie Williams), a Kangol-wearing player on the down low visiting from the Bronx, and rather bravely, Marcus comes out to his friends.
Other aspects of our hero’s life are less clear. His sleep is clouded with confusing dreams featuring a mysterious man in white (Williams again) who talks to him through sheets of rain. And while awake, Marcus’ questions about his late father Elegba, (a sort of charming ex-con from “The Brothers Size”) whom he suspects may also have been sweet, are met with stony silence from those who knew him best including Marcus’ protective mother Oba (Bianca Laverne Jones).
As the menacing storm draws nearer, things begin to look a little sunnier for Marcus. His girlfriends begin to accept him as he is, his mother gives him a little more freedom, and more significantly, feisty housing project elder Aunt Elegua (an excellent Stephanie Berry who doubles as Osha’s tough, big-mouthed mother Shun) reluctantly displays an interest in Marcus’ dreams.
There is prophesy in the dreams of a sweet boy, she suggests. Middle-aged Ogun Size (Montae Russell), a longtime San Pere resident, gifts Marcus with some illuminating details about his father’s relationship with Ogun’s long-banished brother, Oshoosi.
“Marcus” is very connected with the other parts of the trilogy. Like those plays, it makes use of West African mythology, eruptions of song (from old school blues to more contemporary) and dance.
Here again, the actors sometimes turn to the audience and speak their stage directions, underscoring an emotion or simply making us laugh. “Marcus” relies on humor more than the other plays — it’s infused with more contemporary references and punctuated with obvious jokes.
Daniel Conway’s beautiful, spare set is comprised of a long, low ramp and a glass rain wall backed by a big sky forebodingly lit by Michael Giannitti. Reggie Ray costumes the folks of San Pere in spot-on street clothes.
The trilogy concludes with McCree’s Marcus abruptly announcing the play is over. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to imagine McCraney’s characters hanging on in their far off bayou town — yearning, remembering, discovering and dreaming.