Let's start with the water: "Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet", the third installment in wunderkind playwright Tarrell Alvin McCraney's "Brother/Sister" triptych, finds the residents of fictional San Pere, La., bracing for a hurricane. Daniel Conway's set conjures the buckets of rain artfully and economically, running jets of of water down a transparent pane at the back of the stage. Somehow it evokes a deluge better than either of the shows I can recall at the H Street playhouse that actually showered water from the ceiling on the actors, taking you out of the story to consider more prosaic matters, like drainage. The rain is about all there is to Conway's set. Otherwise, the the show sustains the minimalist aesthetic of its forebears, "The Brothers Size" and "In the Red and Brown Water," which Studio presented in 2008 and 2010, respectively. As in those plays, McCraney puts stage directions in the mouths of his actors, a device that contributes a big laugh in one tense scene wherein a sexual predator seduces a not-unwilling victim -- that'd be 16-year-old Marcus, our protagonist, played with great charisma and vulnerability by J. Mal McCree -- but is mostly just self-conscious filigree. That's only a minor quibble: Overall, this show haunts you like a half-remembered dream, powered by a marvelous eight-person cast makes McCraney's florid dialogue sound natural and real.
Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet
|If you go|
|Where: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW|
|When:Through Feb. 20|
Marcus is "sweet" in the parlance of the play -- gay, and teased about it by his friends, though the best of them, Osha (a fierce Rachael Holmes), pines for him, hoping he'll eventually return her romantic interest. But this isn't a romance; is a fable derived from Yoruba legends of West Africa. Marcus dreams of a mysterious man in white (Lance Coadie Williams, vampish and menacing), and that storm, and his father (a central figure in one of the other "Brother/Sister" entries), who may or may not have shared Marcus' "sweetness." Marcus is desperate to know. The inhabitants of San Pere don't dismiss the stuff of dreams as mere fantasy: Marcus just might be some prophet, and so everyone takes an interest in him. After a discursive, poetic act 1, the plot mechaincs of act 2 brings Marcus down to Earth without really taking a stance on whether we're in the realm of the supernatural or not. In the end, that's the most satisfying thing about "Marcus": It leaves you plenty to imagine for yourself.