The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | UI’s ‘In the Red and Brown Water’ offers spectacular performance

Some of the university’s most talented actors poured their passion and dedication out onto the stage with this production of “In the Red and Brown Water,” which will run between April 12-20.
Ava Neumaier
Cianon Jones plays Mama Moja during a rehearsal of In the Red and Brown Water at the Iowa Theatre Building on Thursday, April 11, 2024. The play is set in Louisiana but is based on the spirits of the Yoruba religion.

The University of Iowa’s Theatre Arts Department’s production of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “In the Red and Brown Water” wholeheartedly deserved a standing ovation.

Directed by UI assistant professor and actress Caroline Clay, the play’s sold-out Friday night opening saw a packed house. I couldn’t help but be amazed at the emotionally charged story, and the actors who brought it to life. Each actor played their respective characters with heart and passion, keeping me engaged in the story so much that I found myself eager to see what happened next.

Portraying the spirited runner Oya, lead actor Dajzané Meadows-Sanderlin took center stage in the production. Beginning the play as a high school track star with big dreams, Oya could “run like the wind.”

However, after learning of her mother’s illness, Oya is faced with the heart-wrenching choice of whether to stay and take care of her mom or go live out her collegiate dreams. Through it all, she is also faced with conflicting emotions over two lovers: the hardworking Ogun Size and the alluring Shango.

I applaud Meadows-Sanderlin for how well she brought the richness and complexity of Oya’s character to life, especially as Oya grew up. Navigating adulthood can be tricky and difficult, especially for someone with such high aspirations as Oya.

Because of the emotion funneled into Oya’s character, I was invested in her story and hoped things would turn out well for her.

I also thought her relationship with the community around her was rich and compelling, showing societal pressures as Oya longed for similar lives to her friends and neighbors. This was further highlighted by the push and pull of Isaac Addai’s Ogun and Michael Taylor’s Shango as Oya was forced to choose between comfort and passion.

Though Oya certainly stood out during the play, the depictions of the other characters took the production to a whole new level. From the moment I took my seat in the audience, I felt immersed in the world of this story.

About five minutes before the play even began, several actors came out on stage and interacted with the audience and one another. Kylen Phillips’s portrayal of Elegba was perhaps my favorite part of the pre-show bit, as he went around to each audience section and asked if anyone had a piece of candy.

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Elegba’s sweet tooth returned later in the play as well, and his tendency to do just about anything for a piece of chocolate had me both smiling and shaking my head at the character. He was also an important part of the storyline, as his dreams came up many times throughout the play and the audience witnessed his evolution from a boy into a young man.

Another fun character who popped up throughout the story was Asha Keller’s Aunt Elegua, who brought a touch of fun and flavor to the play, popping up after the early death of Cianon Jones’ Mama Moja.

In addition, Delaney Waterman and E’mma Camara played their “party girl” trope characters, Nia and Shun, respectively, with enthusiasm and wit. I found myself laughing at their antics and admiring the actresses’ chemistry with one another.

Overall, sitting around Oya’s porch for one evening was an incredibly enjoyable experience that I would highly recommend.

“In the Red and Brown Water” is showing at the university’s Theatre Building until April 20.

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About the Contributors
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.