Theater Review - Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy comes to the Alliance

The celebrated playwright returns after getting a big start in 2008

The housing projects of Miami and the Royal Shakespeare Company in London probably seem about as far apart as two places can get, but for playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose latest play Choir Boy has its Atlanta premiere at the Alliance this month, they're both stops on a life trajectory that seems as incredible as anything from the most dramatic play. McCraney spent much of his early life being raised by his young mother in the Liberty Projects of Miami, which have been identified as among the nation's worst.

But playwriting and performing always provided a sense of release for McCraney, and he participated in several theater programs for at-risk youth as a child and then went on to study as an undergraduate at the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago and as a graduate at the Yale School of Drama. In 2007, he won the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition for his script In the Red and Brown Water, which was produced by the Alliance Theatre. It proved to be a crucial step in his career, and McCraney since went on to become international playwright-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, a position he held for three years, and a member of Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre. We caught up with McCraney, who is often as aesthetically spare in his speech as he is in his writing, to discuss the new play, his return to Atlanta, and the things he's been up to since his last production here.

Choir Boy had a pretty incredible world premiere this summer up in New York: a glowing review in the New York Times, sold-out shows, several extensions to the run, and more. Was there one moment that you think of as particularly surprising or gratifying, some sort of personal highlight or milestone that maybe people didn't see?

The truth be known the most exciting things were happening on the stage. I got to work with those incredible actors, Jeremy Pope and Nicholas Ashe. And to get to know them as young people is sort of extraordinary. I'm really excited to see where they go and all that they brought to the piece.

For people who aren't familiar with Choir Boy yet, can you share a little bit about the show and what the inspiration was for writing it?

Choir Boy is a play about an all-male prep school, Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. It chronicles the senior year of a kid named Pharus Young who is lead of the choir, which is sort of the calling card for the school. The inspiration was dealing with a young man who may not fit into what we think of as the model of young black men and the trials of that year.

Would you say that the play is at all based on your own experiences? Did your adolescence look like Pharus' at all?

No. Pharus is unique in that he's outspoken and flamboyant and extraordinarily smart. He's a genius and ahead of his time. Those are the things that help him and also get him into trouble.

The school in the play is in the South. Is it based on a real school?

No. There are no more schools like it. There used to be schools like it in the United States, but they don't exist anymore.

Why do you think it's important to bring the play to Atlanta?

I grew up in the South. Particularly I'm just excited to have it at the Alliance. I think audiences there will have interesting discourse with the piece. I always find those audiences smart but also viscerally aware. That's always a gift to any play.

After your first production here you became playwright in residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. That's pretty mind-blowing. Tell us about your time with that institution.

I actually got that job while I was in Atlanta working on In the Red and Brown Water. I was there for three years, and now I'm an associate artist with them working to create a production of Antony and Cleopatra, which starts rehearsal on the 23rd. It was a really extraordinary time. I got to learn a lot. It followed on my post-graduate education. Diving into this scholarly and intense relationship with Shakespeare's work, I think it just provided an opportunity I was blessed to have. It afforded an opportunity to look at the canon and see how it affected my work and the work around me.

More By This Writer


Monday August 17, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Director Stevan Riley combines new technology with archival footage and audio to tell actor's story | more...


Thursday August 6, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing is both contemplative and bleak | more...


Thursday July 30, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Director's latest release feels like a rehashing of characters and narratives from past projects | more...


Wednesday July 29, 2015 10:35 am EDT

? Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is probably most familiar to American audiences for his film roles including his Oscar-nominated performance as Solomon Northup in 2013's 12 Years a Slave. But Ejiofor is also a hugely accomplished stage actor in his home country of England. Atlanta audiences can easily catch a glimpse of this side of Ejiofor when the National Theatre of Great Britain does...

| more...


Wednesday July 22, 2015 10:15 am EDT

? Following up on the success of the 2013 exhibition Drawing Inside the Perimeter, the High Museum's Sprawl! Drawing Outside the Lines focuses on work by contemporary Atlanta-based artists. The new show expands the concept by featuring over 100 recently-acquired works by more than 75 artists (both ITP and OTP), including a title wall designed by Atlanta muralist Paper Frank. CL caught...

| more...
Search for more by Andrew Alexander

[Admin link: Theater Review - Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy comes to the Alliance]

Spider for Theater Review - Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy comes to the Alliance