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"The Nerd: Dinner Theatre," January 23 - February 1, Ritz Theatre of Newberry at Steven W's Downtown Bistro.

"In the Red and Brown Water," January 23 - February 7, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Jesus Christ Superstar," January 29 - February 1, Fine Arts Center if Kershaw County Wood Auditorium, 425-7676.

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"Twelfth Night," February 13-22, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.

"Bunnicula," February 20 - March 1, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"Translations," February 20-28, USC Longstreet Theatre.

"The Trojan Women," February 26 - march 1, USC Lab Theatre.

"You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce," February 27 - March 14, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

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Trustus Demonstrates the Art of Theatre With In the Red and Brown Water

Review by James Harley 

Theatre is among the most interesting forms of art largely due to its multidimensional nature, drawing together literature and its inherent ideas, sound (both vocal and manufactured), images and motion, all presented live and thus demanding a high level of perfection. No other form really matches this depth of artistry, at least when such artistry is taken seriously. Often a theatrical production will simply tell a story in a believable manner, ultimately relying on the words to govern the impact of the show while using the other elements as simple accentuation. Fortunately, however, there are directors who embrace each element fully and creatively exploit them all, producing the true artistic “show” that sets theatre apart from (and above) television, cinema and literature.

Chad Henderson (Next to Normal, Avenue Q, Passing Strange) is one such director and his latest effort, “In the Red and Brown Water” at Trustus Theatre, clearly demonstrates the importance of this approach. Frankly, despite its recognition in some major markets playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “In the red and Brown water” is little more than a standard soap opera drama, utilizing basic human conflicts to keep the audience interested in the story. Oya, a female high school track star living in the projects in Louisiana, faces the many challenges of growing up; dealing with an aging mother, finding the right partner, choosing the right path in general and learning of the consequences of her decisions. These issues make for a typical story which has some added intrigue via its connection to Yoruban culture and cosmology, as each character loosely represents a spirit within this vision. McCraney adds a bit more spice with his poetic style and also the narrative aspect of the play, which has characters directly addressing the audience with stage directions that would normally remain unspoken. Still, while the style points and basic story ingredients keep you very interested, it ultimately goes nowhere, finishing in an abrupt and unsatisfying manner with nothing substantial learned.

Now, this sounds like it may be a bad review based on the assessment of the script, but that is where Henderson steps in. The show is actually a must-see, if for no other reason than to realize that theatrical art is the complex collaborative entity described above. Henderson employs every resource at his disposal to create a unique production that goes far beyond what the story itself offers. From the opening image where we see the projects – artfully designed by Kimi Maeda -- silhouetted in blue light, to the creative manifestations of scenery (a bed, a clothesline) enacted by the actors themselves, to the constant stage pictures formed by the ensemble in support of the central action, one could simply watch the entire show without audio and still enjoy the visual art before them.

Of course, that would deprive you of fully appreciating the cast that Henderson has put together, particularly Avery Bateman as Oya, who brings everything she’s got to the role including tears as she successfully expresses virtually every existing emotion during her transformation toward adulthood. Jabar Hankins’ range is not quite as wide in the role of Ogun, one of Oya’s suitors, but he navigates between anxiety and charm quite effectively in perhaps the most realistic portrayal on stage. Bakari Lebby brings a natural comedic sense to his role as neighbor Elegba, and Annette Dees Grevious is powerful as Oya’s mother and downright scary as “the woman who reminds you,” a local mystic. There are no weaknesses among the cast, with show stealing honors clearly go to Katrina Blanding as the sassy Aunt Elegua, whose gift for classic comic relief had me thinking I was watching “The Jeffersons” on numerous occasions.

“In the Red and Blue Water” is full of racy language and visuals, so don’t take the children, but if you want to see what a director can do to make a theatrical experience memorable then you should check this one out as it is not your typical production. As noted above, you won’t leave with any profound revelations on the individual topic, but perhaps regarding the form itself and how much fun theatre can be with truly detailed and creative effort behind it.

The show runs at Trustus Theatre through February 7. For reservations call the box office at 803-254-9732. For more information visit our Press Release page.



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