Making Your Mark

“Bringing humanity up to the gods and the gods down to humanity.”

—Caroline Clay, director

“Keep running, always running.” In our world today, we are under the impression that we must always be doing something productive. We have to make a difference in order for our lives to mean something. But what happens when obstacles are thrown in our way? Obstacles that we cannot move and cannot overcome? In Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water, this stagnation is what Oyá faces after missing the chance to leave her small community to do what she loves—running. After postponing her life, Oyá finds the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taken away, leaving her in this small town with the need to find what it means to make a mark.

When writing this play, McCraney was heavily influenced by the Yoruba religion—brought over to North America from Western Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As slaves were taken in several directions, this religion and culture was most preserved by the south-eastern coastal regions which include Southern U.S., Caribbean, Cuban, and Puerto-Rican Santerían traditions which influenced the new growth of this belief and practice as it exists outside of Africa. Within the world of the play, McCraney embodies the mysteries of the divine by taking the deities from Yoruba tradition—the Orisha—and placing them in the human world. From Yoruba creation myth to stories of interactions between these deities, McCraney is able to intertwine myth and reality, story and experience, in a way that both represents a centuries-old tradition and the lives experienced by its descendants today. 

Along with the Orisha spirits, McCraney brings in elements of Federico García Lorca’s Yerma—the story of a young woman who wants nothing more than to be a mother but is married to a man who’s only concern is his work. He goes so far as to relegate Yerma to the house and to bring his sister to ensure her behavior. Lorca examines what becomes of us when we are isolated, sectioned off from community, and made to feel as though our existence has no meaning. In combining Yoruba culture with Lorca’s Yerma in a postmodern approach, McCraney is able to make a new meaning, a new story. 

            Through this new story, we are brought to question how we create meaning for ourselves. How do we step out of societal, cultural, and religious expectations of what we should do and what meaning we should make? How do we come to know who we are, in our bodies, in our minds, and in our own hearts? These questions permeate the world McCraney has crafted as well as our development of this production. So, as you experience these characters and their world, ask yourself, do you know who you are? How do you make meaning for yourself? How do you exist in both body and spirit? Investigate these questions, because, like Oyá, we are “here, always here,” so how could we not?

—Rebecca Weaver, dramaturg