Photo by Miles Orion Feld
Diarra Kilpatrick delivers a mystifying performance as Oya in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s cosmological play, and the Sentinel’s pick of the week, “In Red and Brown Water.” Set in the “distant-present” time period, the play presents a West African, Yoruba inspired brand of storytelling with a contemporary urban twist. Set in a fictitious housing project in Louisiana, the story of Oya unfolds.
Housed under the cozy, Spanish style canopy of The Fountain Theatre, the unusual tragedy recounts the life of a high school track star who is torn between going to college and caring for her ailing mother, Mama Mojo (Peggy A. Blow). When unforeseen circumstances cripple her professional dreams, she is left at home juggling her affections between two men who vie for her attention: her stuttering, devoted lover Ogun (Dorian Christian Baucum) and the womanizing Shango (Gilbert Glenn Brown), whose dangerously carnal passion she is unable to resist. Cosmology, sex, pain, poetry, and tragedy all come together to explore the turbulent force that is Oya.
“In my opinion the story has a lot to do with your purpose,” asserts Kilpatrick. “Oya is such a gifted runner; it’s a God-given gift. And the minute she steers away from that she loses her purpose. It’s devastating to the rest of her life. It [the play] is partly about the desire to be meaningful and significant in the world.”
The presence of West African culture is uniquely interwoven into the theatrical fabric of the production, and is the driving force behind it. Undertones of the stories and struggles of the Yoruba Gods, orishas, (spirits) can be found in the names and personalities of just about every character. Oya’s name, for example, fittingly represents the goddess of the Niger River, wind, fertility, and magic. Other names, including Shango, the god of lightening, fire, and thunder, and Elegba who is a child-like messenger between the human world and the afterlife deific realm, also follow suit.
“She’s [Oya] the goddess of the Niger River, but in general she’s the goddess of storms and hurricanes, of tornados--she’s the wind,” says Kilpatrick. “Sometimes she’s really sweet and breezy. Some of the movements in the beginning when I’m dealing with my mother are very soft and breezy and gentle. When she gets upset or hurt she’s like a hurricane; she’s enraged like a storm. I feel like she personifies the wind in all of its different incarnations.”
Oya’s sweet but often turbulent disposition creates a show that has won a well-deserved nod from the Sentinel. (O ya!) “In Red and Brown Water” opened at The Fountain Theatre in October, and has been extended through February 24th.