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Quest for identity as trilogy plays out

Final pair of McCraney works is powerful

From left: Natalia Naman, Hampton Fluker, and Miranda Craigwell in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet.’’
From left: Natalia Naman, Hampton Fluker, and Miranda Craigwell in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet.’’COMPANY ONE/Company One

A twofold challenge confronts any cast tackling “The Brother/Sister Plays,’’ the trilogy by the gifted young playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, now playing at Company One.

On the one hand, the actors have to ground their performances in behavioral specifics that give fully individualized form to the emotional complexity of the characters McCraney has created.

At the same time, their characterizations must also be imbued with a mythic dimension, because the playwright has built his trilogy around contemporized and Americanized versions of icons from the pantheon of the Yoruba spiritual traditions of West Africa.

Company One has a cast of actors who are up to that challenge. Are they ever. In fact, several of these performances are among the most richly textured, deeply felt portrayals seen on any Boston stage this year. Hampton Fluker, a student at the Boston University School of Theatre, handles two key roles, and he is nothing short of extraordinary in both.

The first play in the trilogy, “In the Red and Brown Water,’’ opened a couple of weeks ago, under the direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian and showcasing the luminous Miranda Craigwell as a tragically thwarted young woman named Oya.


Now come the second and third installments, “The Brothers Size’’ and “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet,’’ directed by Summer L. Williams with an acute eye and ear for McCraney’s intricate, multilayered world. All three plays will run in repertory through Dec. 3.

Like “In the Red and Brown Water,’’ parts two and three of the trilogy are set in the fictional bayou community of San Pere, La. It’s a place where the ties that bind - of family, of community, of a past that is never really past - can enrich you or ensnare you. Or both.

“The Brothers Size’’ takes place 12 years after the events of “In the Red and Brown Water.’’ Oya is nowhere to be seen, but the mention of her name still brings pain to Ogun Size (Johnnie McQuarley), the decent, dutiful mechanic who lost her to a more glamorous rival.


Now Ogun runs his own car repair shop, and he is locked in a different kind of rivalry. His younger brother, Oshoosi (James Milord), has just returned from prison and is living with him. Ogun is determined to keep Oshoosi on the straight and narrow by waking him early each morning and putting him to work in the shop.

But temptation, of more than one kind, looms in the person of Oshoosi’s friend and fellow ex-inmate, Elegba (Fluker). A prankish, watchful youth in “In the Red and Brown Water,’’ Elegba has grown into a smoothly calculating man who seems possessed of a secret knowledge. He is determined to rekindle the relationship he and Oshoosi developed in prison.

Ogun tries to stand between them, seeing Elegba as purely bad news, but might the truth be more complicated? In a dream by Oshoosi (one of several dream sequences used to illuminating effect in “The Brother/Sister Plays’’), Elegba tells him: “I am your taker. I am here to take you home. Just when you thought you walked alone. I am here.’’

Those words make a certain sense in the context of Milord’s admirable performance, which communicates a sense that Oshoosi is both restless and lost. McQuarley is simply excellent as Ogun, whose outward rigidity conceals - until it doesn’t - his deep torment at being unable to keep his brother from straying onto self-destructive pathways. When Ogun’s anguish does pour forth, McQuarley is riveting.


“Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet’’ takes place four years later, just before a storm that is meant to evoke Hurricane Katrina. Oshoosi is gone and Elegba is dead. Elegba’s 16-year-old son, Marcus, played by Fluker with an air of uncertainty and tentative yearning that could not be more different from his portrayal of Elegba, is trying to figure out his own life story.

To the dismay of his mother, Oba (Michelle Dowd), Marcus keeps asking questions about the mysterious father he barely knew. The youth also quizzes Ogun about the relationship between Elegba and Oshoosi.

All of which is a way of asking persistent questions about himself. Specifically, Marcus is awakening to the realization that he is gay. This kindles the disappointment and anger of his childhood sweetheart and longtime friend, Osha (Natalia Naman), an equation that is further complicated when Shua (Chris Leon), a swaggering young man from the Bronx, takes up with both Marcus and Osha.

As Marcus makes his way through this tangled landscape, he keeps trying to decode the riddle of a dream he keeps having, of a man standing in the rain, telling him things he cannot remember when he wakes up. The man’s identity will eventually become clear, with a devastating impact on one character in the final scene. Like much of Company One’s productions of “The Brother/Sister Plays,’’ it will stay with you.


Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.