|Tarell Alvin McCraney|
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I was introduced to playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney through his seminal work The Brothers Size. The Public Theater decided to mount a limited engagement of this new voice that was just about to graduate from the Yale School of Drama. Ilene Rosen, who was then director of marketing at The Public, called me to provide marketing assistance for the production. She sent me the script. I read it. But, my response to it was so unexpected.
After reading The Brothers Size I burst into tears and cried for a very long time. By allowing me into the world/lives of young black men, sharing their truths/his truth, Tarell, in the words of Ntozake Shange, was “layin’ me open to myself”. The experience of reading the play was shattering because it blew up every notion of what I thought it meant to be young, black and male in America in the 21st century. The language, the emotion, the action of The Brothers Size caught me completely off guard and I was thrilled by it. I knew at that moment I would always say “Yes” to bringing Tarell’s work to the broadest possible audience – especially to black folks. Even if my marketing services were not professionally engaged, I would be an ambassador for his work. I committed to sharing with anyone who would listen about the wonder of Tarell because his stories told us who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going. And his stories made people talk – to each other. Not all of the conversations were easy, but people talked about Tarell and how he saw the world. That said it is important for him to continue to tell his truth so the next generation of playwrights can tell theirs. There would be no Tarell without August. No August without Lorraine. No Lorraine without Langston.
When Debra Waxman-Pilla, director of marketing at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), told me that the theater was going to mount Tarell’s new play Choir Boy – and asked if I was available to assist with marketing the production to a broader audience -- I jumped on the opportunity. Tarell’s body of work had grown tremendously. The Brothers Size was part of a trilogy called the Brother/Sister Plays (I will be forever grateful to Tarell for introducing NYC to the limitless range of the actress Kimberly Hébert Gregory). And then there was Wig Out! plus several more. Choir Boy, a new play featuring gospel music? Written by Tarell? What??? Of course, I wanted to be part of this new journey.
I attended a reading of Choir Boy at MTC at the end of January 2013. What a joyous occasion! Tarell was in the room – I had not seen him in a good while. And Chuck Cooper, the amazing Chuck Cooper, was part of the cast.
Again, I was moved beyond words by Tarell’s work. Like The Brothers Size, the lives of young black men in Choir Boy were played out in ways that were both familiar and unexpected. How he chose to feature gospel music, sung a cappella, underscored the play’s emotional impact on me. I was particularly struck by the way a non-gospel song, “Love Ballad,” one of my favorite songs by the 70s R & B group LTD (Love, Togetherness & Devotion), was presented. I was so taken by the moment I could not remember the correct name of the song. I called it: “What we have is much more than they can see.” The line is part of the chorus and also the final words of the song. The actor, Kyle Beltran, who sang “Love Ballad“ during the reading, helped me find/know/feel/see the scared in something secular. “I have never been so much in love before,” the first words from the song took on new meaning for me as well. Through Choir Boy, Tarell Alvin McCraney and his truth telling was layin’ me open to the new, the familiar, the bold, the unexpected, and to our common humanity -- AGAIN.
I find/found Tarell in myself. And love/ loved him -- Fiercely.
About the play
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s CHOIR BOY,
the new play featuring gospel music
Directed by Trip Cullman
with Nicholas L. Ashe, Kyle Beltran, Grantham Coleman, Chuck Cooper, Austin Pendleton, Jeremy Pope and Wallace Smith
CHOIR BOY was commissioned by MTC with support from Time Warner Inc.
CHOIR BOY is a co-production with Alliance Theatre.
The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is dedicated to the creation of strong, ethical black men. Pharus wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school's legendary gospel choir. Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?
Tarell Alvin McCraney is author of The Brother/Sister Trilogy: The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, & Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. His other works include Wig Out! set in New York's drag clubs and The Breach which deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was the first recipient of The New York Times' Outstanding Playwright Award, the 2009 Steinberg Playwrights Award, and the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.
Manhattan Theater Club
The Studio at Stage II
131 West 55th Street , NYC
Previews Begin: Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Opening Night: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Tickets on sale now! All Seats $30