UNIVERSITY PARK - "Sometimes tragedy is just a matter of bad timing."
This is the reoccurring theme of "In the Red and Brown Water," Penn State Centre Stage's drama which, after a final preview tonight, opens tomorrow in The Playhouse with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 12 to 15 and a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 10.
This is the first in playwright Tarrell Alvina McCrancy's trilogy of "Brother/Sister Plays," which take place in the "distant present."
Set in and about the boisterous projects of the fictional Louisiana town of San Pere, the tale follows an African-American teenager, Oya, who dreams of escaping the project's turmoil by getting a track scholarship at a nearby state college. But when it is offered, Oya is told to put off college and remain at home to care for her terminally ill mother. When Oya is ready to enroll, it is too late, as her scholarship has gone to another runner.
Oya then recedes from her own potential when she fails to have a baby whom she desperately wants.
"In the Red and Brown River" projects universal themes of love and loss, jealousy and betrayal, but mostly, the young runner's self sacrifices.
The cast is composed of students from the music theater program and master of fine arts candidates and is directed by Steve Broadnax, associate professor of acting in Penn State's School of Theatre.
This drama is not, however, without humor, which comes primarily from Aunt Elegua, the funny busybody. But throughout the two acts, the playwright's prickly focus is always upon Oya - aptly named for the goddess of wind and fertility.
With simple setting and costuming, the drama has the unique and initially distracting distinction of having characters recite their own stage directions as if they were existing both in and outside the narrative of the lives.
Relying upon Yoruba mythology, the bevy of memorable characters are a metaphor for Oya's diminishment after her failure to thrive and produce a child.
After breaking up with a caring, simple man, Ogun Size, Oya gravitates to her first love, the flashy Shango - the smart-talking lover with bedroom eyes. But when he impregnates another woman, Oya is quietly broken, having failed to produce the least of which she expects of herself.
The play's the thing and although "In the Red and Brown River" certainly doesn't have the box office draw of earlier shows, notably the recent sold out run of "Sweeney Todd," it is far more than a taunt acting exercise.
McCrancy was the winner of the New York Times Distinguished Playwright Award and the trilogy was hailed as "the greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30."
Although named for a goddess and able to run like the wind, Oya is never able to realize her dreams. As she is neither at the right stage nor at the right time, her story is a differently structured but decidedly compelling tragedy. For tickets, call 814-863-0255, (800) ARTS-TIX or visit www.theatre.psu.edu.