Storms and Soul-Searching Set the Stage for ‘Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet’

In case you missed it, this summer the Oakland University Board of Trustees promoted Music, Theatre and Dance from department to school status. With the new distinction, OU hopes to attract high-caliber talent to their programs. The good news is we don’t have to wait for results because the Theatre Department already is teeming with amazing talent as the cast of Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet proves.

Set in the fictional town of San Pere during a hot Louisiana summer, the play focuses around Marcus Eshu, a 16-year-old boy with a lot on his mind. And Brandon Santana deserves credit for playing the role with great passion and sensitivity. Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet is actually the third and last installment in The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he won an Academy Award in 2016 for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film Moonlight. Over the last year and a half, the OU Theatre Department has produced the first two plays—In the Red and Brown Water and The Brothers Size. But don’t worry about being able to follow along if you didn’t see the others. Each play is meant to stand-alone on its own merit. If you did see the other plays, then you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the way the characters’ lives intersect with each other and a better understanding of the fictional world they occupy.

The company of Oakland University’s production of “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet” — (sitting):Tony Sharpe, Taylor Jones, Brandon Santana, Jordan Taylor, Brandon Wright; (kneeling): Aristotle Taylor, Mekhi Holloway, Aurora Batton; (standing): Brittney Hollis, Teryn Michaels-Hutson.
Photo credit JLBoone Photography

As the play begins, Marcus is attending the funeral of Shango, the father of his best friend Osha (Brittney Hollis). Something about what he sees and hears awakens in him the desire to know more about his own late father. The problem is, no one seems too eager to help fill in the blanks. There is also the exploration of Marcus’ search for answers regarding his sexual and personal identity. His other best friend, the saucy Shaunta Iyun (Jordan Taylor is comedic perfection) is constantly pestering him to tell her if he’s ‘sweet.’ But Marcus struggles to answer the question in a way people will understand, just like they struggle to give him a straight answer about his dad. So, instead the characters talk about the storm that’s coming, the rain, and how it will wash over everything. The dialogue is part poetry, part vernacular that you’d expect to find in the projects of Louisiana. Another wonderful device McCraney incorporates is having his characters occasionally refer to themselves in the third person, along with verbalizing their stage directions. These well-timed moments give this poignant and provocative play infusions of much needed levity. This small cast does wonders with the material, but I wanted to especially note Taylor Jones and Tony Sharpé who both tackle dual roles in the production. Jones is a chameleon going from the older and beleaguered Elegua (her singing, especially the a cappella version of “Precious Lord” will give you chills) to the no nonsense Shun, mother of Osha. Sharpé first appears as Oshoosi Size, a ghost and the brother of Ogun Size (Brandon Wright). But it’s his turn as Terrell and his ‘white chicks in scary movies’ bit that will leave you in stitches.

Director Karen Sheridan is to be commended for how she keeps the colors and staging simple, so the audience’s full attention is focused on the actors, from whom she is able to pull such rich performances and bring this trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. Additionally, there are a dozen seats that are on the stage, which gives those sitting there an opportunity to be voyeurs to these intimate and difficult conversations. Even with the lighter moments, Marcus is a raw and emotionally-charged look at the secrets and storms—both literally and figurative—that can consume us. At times, you could feel the room holding its breath and visibly see how the story was impacting the audience by the emotion etched on their faces. It’s easy to understand why the opening night performance was given a standing ovation. Marcus gives the audience a lot to think about. Sometimes truths aren’t straightforward or universally accepted. Nevertheless, they must be spoken. As Marcus says, “The end.”

Due to strong language and suggested sexual content, this play is recommended for ages 18 and over. It runs roughly two and a half hours with a 12-minute intermission.

Tickets are $15 general and $8 students. Purchase tickets in advance with no service fee, by visiting www.StarTickets.com. Performances are in Varner Studio Theatre, which is located on the Oakland University campus. Maps of the campus are available at Oakland.edu/map or by searching for “Varner Hall” on a smartphone. Parking is free.

Remaining performances are as follows:

Friday, November 10, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 8 p.m.

Friday, November 17, 2017 at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.

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About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at editor@rochestermedia.com.

Comments

  1. Karen Sheridan says:

    Sarah,

    Thank you for the beautiful and beautifully written review of Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. I’m proud of my students and excited we were able to take The Brother/Sister Plays ride together. I’m going to live on the fumes of this one for quite a while.

    All the best,
    Karen

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