Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Everybody is going to take away something different from Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet," and that is the wonderful thing about it. The story is thick with African myth and Louisiana drawl. The actors, many drawn from A.C.T.'s Master of Fine Arts Program, are young and riveting. They pull us into a drama that is much more than it seems on the surface.

Young Marcus (Richard Prioleau) is confused about his sexual identity and is being tormented by a vivid dream, which we see in the opening. He attempts to seek out someone who can not only interpret the dream for him, but also tell him if his recently-buried father, about whom Marcus's mother refuses to speak, might also have had these sexual confusions. In other words -- was his father "sweet" too?

Marcus's two best friends, Shaunta (Omozé Idehenre) and Osha (Shinelle Azoroh), want to know about Marcus too, but he's not talking. Osha has had a crush on him for a long time. When she finally realizes Marcus will never be her beau, she picks up on the first player who comes along, Joshua (Tobie L. Windham III). The problem is that Shua, as he is known to Marcus, is batting from both sides of the plate. It confuses things, but in the end clarifies them too.

You can't take your eyes off Margo Hall, who plays a triple role, including the fabulously crazy Aunt Elegua, who alternates between swearing a blue streak and praising the Lord, and also Marcus's frustrated mother Oba.

But the very best part of this story is the dream. In the end, it's not about sex and it's not about Marcus at all. We find ourselves observing a world of water about to pour from the sky, as a community faces its own struggles with life and death. "All I got is these dreams and memories," Ogun Size (Gregory Wallace) says just before the curtain. It's true for all of us.

Ratings: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet" Four Stars. It is that good. There are a few niggles that amount to very little -- Marcus seems too tentative in the opening Act, for example, and you had better concentrate on the Louisiana dialect or some very funny lines will fly right by you. But the story is memorable, the acting and direction spot-on and the humor sharp. "Ray Charles could see that," says classmate Terrell (Jared McNeill). "And he blind AND dead."

"Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet"
A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through November 21

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