OU production receives sweet invitation from prestigious theatre festival

Trevor Tyle, Editor-in-Chief

The Oakland University Department of Theatre is preparing for two sweet final performances of one of its most popular productions.

OU’s “Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet” has been invited to perform at the Region III Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival at the Marian University Theatre in Indianapolis on Jan. 11. The play, written by “Moonlight” screenwriter Tarell McCraney, is the final chapter in “The Brother/Sister Plays” trilogy. Its predecessors, “In the Red and Brown Water” and “The Brothers Size,” have both previously been performed on campus.

Though director Karen Sheridan says the invitation was an “exciting” moment for everyone involved, it didn’t come as a surprise to the production’s star, Brandon Santana.

“It certainly didn’t feel like the last time back in November,” he said. “This was something we have been hoping for and anticipating since rehearsals began.”

“Marcus” tells the story of its titular character, a 16-year-old African American boy struggling with his sexual identity amid some stunning revelations about his late father. The play has been praised for being both inclusive and contemporary, both important elements for a college audience according to Sheridan.

“I think it’s topical in that way because you can’t help but like this character,” she said. “You can be a very conservative person […] and it’s going to be really hard for you to hate this kid. You sit there and you go, ‘OK, so, I am not a gay man, but I have felt like the people around me don’t understand me. So, I get that.’

And then all of a sudden, you go, ‘OK, so, I know what my thing about not being accepted is, so I get your gay thing, even if I don’t get the gay thing.’ So, it just starts to open a little door. And our job at a university is to get people to think. It doesn’t have to be to piss people off, so you just have to pick your stories appropriately, but this is a challenging piece.”

Sheridan had to restage the production to maintain its intimacy in a slightly less intimate setting—the Marian University Theatre seats 487, while the Varner Studio Theatre seats 125. The production’s popularity allowed it to make a one-night-only comeback to OU on Saturday, Jan. 6, during which the restaging was debuted. The night’s proceeds contributed to the travel costs for the cast and crew’s participation in the festival.

Next week’s festival marks an accomplishment not only for the production, but also for Santana, who received an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition nomination for his starring role. He is one of seven nominees that will represent OU at the festival, with each competing for the $500 award.

“It’s really one of those plays that is a complete celebration of life and such a beautiful play to expose what it’s like to be black in a black community,” he said. “What’s very exciting about doing this kind of work is that people outside the black community or the LGBTQ+ community seem to always take something away from this. We’ve had people express how surprised they were and thankful to have seen such a show. It’s a play that is impossible to replicate.”

For more information, visit OU’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance webpage.