The reviews are in for Pillsbury House’s “In the Red and Brown Water”

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Christiana as Oya and Sonja Parks as Mama Moja and Greta Oglesby as Aunt Elegua in the production “In the Red and Brown Water.”

Photo credit: 2011 © Michal Daniel

In the Red and Brown Water” runs through June 5 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It’s a production of Pillsbury House Theatre, in conjunction with The Mount Curve Company. It’s author, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, has been hailed as “the next August Wilson.”

Thinking about seeing the show? Check out these excerpts of reviews by local critics; click on the links to read the full reviews.

From Rohan Preston at the Star Tribune:

The first play in a trilogy, “Red and Brown Water” mixes myth with realism. It centers on Oya (Christiana Clark), a track star living in a Louisiana housing project, who is offered an athletic scholarship to college. Oya declines the offer to care for her sick mother, Mama Moja (the inestimable Sonja Parks). Her life goes on, dimmed but not over, as she seeks fulfillment in the arms of competing lovers — army man Shango (Ansa Akyea) and businessman Ogun (James A. Williams).

McCraney’s writing is witty, poetic and profound, marrying the supple poetics of Shakespeare, the mythic sweet spots of Federico Garcia Lorca and August Wilson and the choreographed soulfulness of Ntozake Shange with an urban lyricism. There’s not much to the plot, but McCraney brings out the majesty of his poor characters, named after Yoruba deities.

…This production, suffused with music, light and levity, announces the arrival of a brilliant new voice.

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Ansa Akyea as Shango, Greta Oglesby as Aunt Elegua, and Christiana Clark as Oya

Photo credit: 2011 © Michal Daniel

From Rob Hubbard at the Pioneer Press:

“In the Red and Brown Water” flows briskly during its first half but grows static in its second. And the central character isn’t nearly as magnetic as many of those who orbit around her. But what the author doesn’t give her in words, Christiana Clark makes up for in a physically expressive performance.

She plays Oya, a product of the projects in a Louisiana city. As the play begins, she’s a high school track star being offered a college scholarship, which she declines because of her mother’s illness. It’s the first step on a path toward hopelessness for Oya, who becomes the center of a rivalry between two men and looks to motherhood as a last chance for fulfillment.

But the plot isn’t the point of this play. It’s more an exploration of emotions and interchanges, poetry and pain. Its characters’ inner lives surface as they speak stage directions (“Elegba exits like a three-quarter moon in the daytime”; “Ogun exits, leaving his heart behind him.”).

And there’s a transporting sense of magical realism in the elaborate details of a dream and a character being swept away by a river of gospel singers.

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Greta Oglesby as Aunt Elegua and Christiana Clark as Oya, with the ensemble in the background

Photo credit: 2011 © Michal Daniel

From John Olive at HowWasTheShow.com:

The lyrical comedy, the moon-driven theatricality is terrific, as is the play’s ambitiousness. But Oya’s desire for pregnancy feels a touch tacked on, a way of providing a conclusion. A small complaint, this, given the complex beauty of In The Red And Brown Water.

Is there better acting to be found in the cities – or anywhere? I doubt it. Director Marion McClinton provides us a simple painted floor and scrim (niftily designed by David Gallo and beautifully lit by Michael Wangen), puts some lawn chairs on the sides and then wisely gets out of the gifted cast’s way.

As Oya, Christiana Clark thrills. Lithe and muscular, leggy and gorgeous, Clark leaps about the stage, running circles around the other characters, energizing, driving the play with a compelling combination of desperate fear and exuberant defiance. This is a performance that will grow and build – and stay with you.

Have you seen “In the Red and Brown Water?” If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

To learn more about the production, check out Euan Kerr’s story here.

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