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McCraney, by many lights one of the great young hopes of the American theater, made a dazzling impression hereabouts when his drama The Brothers Size introduced Studio audiences to his striving, searching Louisiana characters in 2008. In the Red and Brown Water, second in a trilogy collectively titled The Brother/Sister Plays, makes less of an impact partly because Seiden’s cast seems a trifle uneasy with the lyrical gestures of an epic piece staged in an intimate space—the playwright famously weaves together elements of West African mysticism and gritty American realism, and here he tells the story of a promising athlete with aspects of the Yoruba goddess Oya.
But the trouble is partly that McCraney’s youth has led him this time into traps he’d avoided before. Early scenes introduce and dispatch one pivotal character with what seems like inorganic haste, for instance, and the music McCraney specifies for her playing-off has the whiff of the obvious about it.
In the Red and Brown Water has divided critics from city to city, and I suspect what makes the difference is a director who can convincingly establish a world that’s both recognizably this one and hypnotically other, and who can make McCraney’s characters feel at once appealingly individual and esoterically larger-than-life. It’s a tall order—but then McCraney is capable of a terrifying sort of theatrical magic. To suggest that making it should be easy would be slighting everyone involved.