Tall Tales: Curious Theatre Company's “In The Red And Brown Water"
Tickets here for “In the Red and Brown Water” at Denver’s Curious Theatre Company
The first play in a trilogy, “In the Red and Brown Water,” serves up that special Curious Theatre recipe of bold, unusual storytelling and a memorable theatrical style, in this case a street-level vibe from the poor and mist-filled neighborhoods of Louisiana.
The play is both mystical and gritty. It’s simultaneously magical and ordinary. Joy and tragedy intertwine. They juxtapose like bright red on blazing white. It’s crude in spots, delicate in others. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney stirs the pot with poetry and song, dancing and lively silhouettes. Players, mid-dialogue, give themselves stage direction.
In this case, the work that went into the set by the Curious Theatre set by Shannon McKinney and Chip Walton must not be buried as an after-thought. We are greeted by a rocking chair on a high porch, partial walls of an old house and a long multi-purpose ramp that slashes across the stage. A giant screen catches warm light and shadows. Fog ebbs and billows. The set is simple and eye-popping at the same time. We can smell the heat, feel the weight. This world feels confined.
The story focuses on Oya, a budding track star whose skills as a runner might provide her ticket out and up. Away. She asks for a delay on the offer of a golden ticket to be an athlete at “state” to take care of an ailing mother. After the mother dies, the opportunity fizzles and she’s stuck to manage and juggle the advances of first one suitor, who goes off to war, and then another. The first appeals to her physical side and the second appeals to her heart. Dressed in a variety of pure white outfits throughout the play, it’s really impossible to take your eyes off the riveting Kristen Adele in this role: you can feel her hopes and the aches in equal jolts.
Around the story revolve a young, precocious teenager (Elegba) with his own secrets and a boisterous busybody (Aunt Elegua). Both Damian Hoover (Elegba) and Geri J. Crawley (Aunt Elegua) are given some of the juiciest moments in the script and neither actor waste the opportunities, particularly during an energetic dance sequence in the second act. It’s Hoover who sets the tone for the entire experience, however, when he recounts a powerful dream early in the first act—and does so in gripping fashion.
As Oya’s would-be boyfriends, Cajardo Lindsey (Ogun) and Theo Wilson (Shango) offer powerful performances—Lindsey as the stammering-at-first semi-shy one who works his way into Oya’s “inside” and Wilson as the hard-body pack of muscles who knows he’s got the moves and the looks.
The feeling of “In the Red and Brown Water” is raw and rugged. What happens to Oya is life—missed opportunities with a trip to college, missed opportunities after Shango comes back from war and takes up with another woman. Again, Oya is too late. She’s left on the porch, her prospects dimming with the day.
Told straight-up, “In the Red and Brown Water” might not—might not—add up to much. With the swirling, simmering stew of poetry, song and dazzling ensemble work (kudos to multi-talented director Dee Covington for this energetic production) this is a night of memorable, compelling theater. There’s a feeling of inter-connectedness in this neighborhood, of births and deaths and everybody knowing each other’s business. When there isn’t much to do, propagation, at least, offers a way to leave your mark.
With two more plays to come, “The Brothers Size” in July and “Marcus: Or The Secret of Sweet” in the fall, there’s lots to look forward to from “The Brothers/Sister Plays” and how the Curious Theatre decides to stage them.
Editor’s note: Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent. Mark was raised in Massachusetts. He’s been a Coloradoan since 1980. He’s worked as a print reporter, national news television producer, and school district communicator. He’s now working in the new economy and listed under “s” for self-employed. Mark has published two Colorado-based mysteries, “Antler Dust” (2007) and “Buried by the Roan” (2011). Midnight Ink published the third book, “Trapline,” in the fall of 2014 and is under contract for a fourth book in the series, too. For more about Mark, check out his website.
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