The play, directed by Steve Broadnax and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, centers on the main character Oya's coming of age and maturation within the realm of the Louisiana housing projects. Oya, a young African American woman known for her running talent and speed, is offered a scholarship promising to take her to college and away from the projects, but she sacrifices her dream to take care of her ailing mother.
Throughout the rest of the play, Oya struggles with the repercussions of her decision, feeling empty inside and unhappy, spending most days sitting on her front porch. As Oya watches her neighbors have children, she desperately yearns to have her own baby, someone to give her purpose and a meaningful life, someone she can look at and then see her "mirror image."
Two young men pursue Oya, further affecting her inner turmoil. Shango, a passionate, sexually charged lover who she argues with but clearly loves more, brings out her smile and the fire within her. On the other hand, her time spent with Ogun Size, a sweet, stuttering mechanic who simply wants to protect her and keep her safe, only exacerbates her melancholic feeling.
While the overall main plot carries a tone of despair, there is still a more humorous and comic side, which is in part due to the play's unique writing style. The playwright, McCraney, writes the stage directions into the dialogue of the play, such as "Shin hums," "Shango enters in his recruitment army uniform," and "Aunt Eleuga weeps." In this sense, the characters assert what they are going to do before they do it, and then the actions (Shin's humming, Shango's entrance, and Aunt Elegua's weeping) immediately follow. For example, when Oya watches her Aunt Eleuga dance, the character Oya first remarks, "Oya laughs, because how can she not," then pauses, then laughs out loud.
In my view, this original method definitely highlights the characters' self-awareness and self-consciousness of their inner mindsets and actions. It especially adds comic relief and a break from the drama when a character interrupts a serious scene to interject with a stage direction, such as when a grieving Oya says, "Oya comforts her aunt" and then proceeds to pat her weeping aunt's back.
These asides also break the fourth wall (the imaginary wall usually built to separate the audience and the actors), since the characters often faced the audience while stating their stage directions and then turned back to the action on stage. This allowed the audience to feel an even greater connection and interaction with the characters.
Even amidst the very tragic themes of heartache and loss, the characterization of some added another layer of humor. For instance, Aunt Eleuga's flirtatious behavior, particularly with one of her godniece's friends, earned a lot of laughs from the lively audience. The incorporation of music, such as the Pussycat Dolls' "Buttons" and the song "Bump 'N Grind," also contributed to tempering the heavy themes.
Ultimately, I was incredibly impressed by Centre Stage's performance and how it included elements of singing, drumming, and modern dancing, which were seamlessly interwoven into the dramatic play and added tremendously to the play's cohesiveness, energy, and overall impact. I left having enjoyed a fine night of theatre in State College and eagerly looking forward to attend more of their productions in the future.
Image: Penn State Centre Stage