Review: Trustus Theatre Presents Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet -- a Play for our Times

Marcus or The Secret of Sweet is the third installment of The Brother/Sister Plays by noted playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney whose work inspired the now Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated film Moonlight. Marcus is a coming-of-age story for the title character Marcus Eshu who is haunted by dreams and memories of his father Elegba that lead Marcus on a path to discovering his secret of sweetness, or key to his sexuality.


The play begins with two powerful images. The first occurs when Marcus’ dreams are dramatized by the full cast and narrated by cast member Chris Jackson while he is showered upon symbolizing a storm soon to come either within Marcus or the impending Hurricane Katrina to his town in Louisiana. The second occurs at the dynamic funeral procession for Marcus’ father where the cast marches around the theatre singing a Negro spiritual to honor Elegba’s death.


The play takes risks as the characters themselves verbalize their own asides, stage instructions and emotions, to the audience. At times in the play, this is helpful and even humorous, and at other times, it can appear condescending. The play also narrates the history of homophobia within the African American community all the way back to slavery, purporting that homosexuality would have been unprofitable for plantation owners, thereby eventually unaccepted and discouraged by black people. There is, finally, the running motif of Marcus’ sexuality perhaps being inherited from his father, embracing the theory of the so-called gay gene.


Marcus’ mother played by Celeste Moore declares in the play, “Ain’t nothing sweet about having a soft son.” The word sweet is a colloquialism used in the town for gay. Marcus labors intensely to unearth his father’s sweetness leading him to long for the affection of his uncle played by Jabar Hankins. Marcus’ dreams intensify the closer he gets to this secret that somehow everyone knows but him.


The cast complements each other well. Katrina Blanding nails her performance as Aunt Elegua with the candor and humor of Tyler Perry’s Madea character. John Floyd as Marcus Eshu is believable and engaging.


Marcus or The Secret of Sweet at Trustus is an education in drama and black culture. The play teaches the process of weathering the storms of internal and external conflict within the paradigms of family and community. 

-- Len Lawson

Len Lawson is the co-editor of the poetry anthology, Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race, releasing on February 19th from Muddy Ford Press.