Hot young actors are easy to come by. Hot young playwrights? Unsurprisingly, less so. But age is the least enticing reason to see Tarell Alvin McCraney’s trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays” currently at the Public Theater. Simply put, the boy’s got talent.
Born in Miami, McCraney studied at a performing arts high school before moving to Chicago to attend DePaul University. After graduating, he worked at the Steppenwolf Theater company, where he was cast in its “Theatrical Essays,” directed by Tina Landau. Since then, he’s earned an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, where he also received the Cole Porter Playwriting Award; has just finished serving as a fellow at Princeton University, and is an international writer in residence at the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company in London. Oh, and he is only 29 years old.
With “The Brother/Sister Plays,” he brings an eclectic voice to the New York theater scene, telling the story of a Louisiana family through a mixture of Yoruba mythology, Shakespearean rhythm, hip-hop music and dance.
STREET STYLE: When McCraney was 13, his mother went into rehab at the Village South in Miami where they had a group that enlisted kids like himself to act in and direct plays on social issues throughout the community.
“This program was about trying to go to people whose lives had already been affected by drugs and alcohol and HIV and talk to them about the choices they could make. Sometimes we would almost get arrested because we’d do these plays on street corners. Because if we were going to do outreach it had to be work that would grab the person walking down the street,” explains McCraney, who learned about everything from Augusto Boal guerrilla theater tactics to Viola Spolin improv techniques.
CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE: McCraney studied acting at DePaul and spent the year after graduating going on casting calls. And it was through them that he found the impetus to write “The Brothers Size” (the second part of the trilogy, which was originally produced on its own).
“Every time I would go for an audition for a play it was either ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ or ‘A Lesson Before Dying.’ It was like the same black plays over and over again,” he recalls. “I just thought to myself, ‘There must be something else for us to do besides these five same plays.’”
GULF STREAM: The three works in “The Brother/Sister Plays” are all set in Louisiana, a place McCraney finds particularly poignant.
“Growing up around the Everglades and the bayou, where one minute you could be standing in 12 centimeters of water and the next be down to a 20 foot gap, it’s just a very precarious place,” he explains. “They are inspired by European and African cosmology, but they are also very American. And I think that’s what’s true about the Gulf Coast and also America: there’s a mixture of so many things layered on each other and they reflect and refract each other.”