Tarell Alvin McCraney, one of the brightest American playwrights to come along in some time, showed up for our interview at the Geffen Playhouse with the buttoned-up demeanor of someone about to give testimony before a grand jury.
He occasionally smiled during our hour-long conversation. At a few points there were hints of laughter. But these were fugitive moments. Polite, soft-spoken and admittedly shy, he so rarely lowered his guard that I couldn’t help feeling as though I were sitting at a judge’s bench.
But when you’re young, gifted, gay and black and the theatrical world is toasting you as the next great one, it makes sense to proceed with caution. You never know when the fickle star-making gods will turn on you.
A native of Miami, where he still lives, McCraney was in town for the start of rehearsals of “Choir Boy,” which opens Sept. 26 at the Geffen Playhouse. A few days before we met he participated in a talk-back after a performance of his play “The Brothers Size” at the Fountain Theatre, which had previously produced the L.A. premiere of “In the Red and Brown Water,” the first part of his trilogy, “The Brother/Sister Plays.” (“The Brothers Size” is the middle play, followed by “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet.”)
To break the ice, I asked him what he had been doing this summer in England, a trip he had mentioned when we were scheduling our meeting. I had assumed that he was in rehearsals with a play at either the Royal Court Theatre (where “Choir Boy” was first done in 2012) or the Royal Shakespeare Company (where he was a playwright-in-residence).
But it turns out this 33-year-old wunderkind who has been collecting prestigious awards since graduating from the Yale School of Drama was in Britain to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick — quite an honor for a playwright who hasn’t reached midcareer.
McCraney must have detected my bemusement, for his gracious, carefully measured comments were barely audible. He was also modest about receiving a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and didn’t even mention the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, two highly remunerative distinctions that will afford him the time and freedom to write without financial worry for a number of years.
For a playwright who grew up in what he described as “one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami,” raised by a mother who battled addiction and died from AIDS-related complications when he was 22, this has been some journey.
Source: The LA Times | Charles McNulty