Catching up with the brilliance of Tarell Alvin McCraney, the 30-year-old gay playwright sometimes described as the "heir" to August Wilson's legacy. The wunderkind's latest work is "American Trade", which he wrote during his stint as writer-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hustlers, hip-hop and homophobia, he explains in a lengthy profile at the London Evening Standard.
It is, he says, "the story of an American hustler who comes to set up shop in London - and the hilarity that ensues". He has explained in the past that "my plays are about what people use to build a life on when they don't have many options". Is the hustler at the heart of this play, Pharus, chancing and charming through life from lucky break to lucky break, like him?
When I ask, McCraney smiles, but it's a small smile, looking to the side. Then he says carefully, "Pharus is somebody trying to avoid attachments - to stay naked of all the things in life that accumulate around you. I grew up in a situation where I knew not to hold anything too hard, because nothing is really yours. You have to try to be yourself, your vulnerable self, without making any attachments or any expectations. The more we attach onto those things the more they disappoint us."
In American Trade, directed by Jamie Lloyd, he teases out one way in which his identities can collide and clash. A congressman launches an investigation into homophobia in hip hop and reggae. McCraney grew up loving this music - but also being repulsed and frightened by the homophobia that saturates it. He turns even more soft-spoken when he recalls first hearing the reggae hits Boom Bah Bah to the Batty Boy and Burn De Chi Chi Man.
"That is saying, 'I'm going to shoot a gay man in the head', 'burn the chi chi man down'. These were the songs that were ringing down my block. And people were dancing to it and screaming to it and jumping up and down. Those cries, that shouting and celebrating. I mean, the day I heard that song in my neighbourhood, I had to be like 11 years old. It came on the radio and scared me so much, I almost cried. But I couldn't cry because I thought that maybe someone would know I was gay."
It's unthinkable, he says, that we would passively tolerate music that incited hatred against black people in this way. "I get very angry about it," he says. "Buju Banton just went to jail. People are saying, 'Free Buju Banton! He's such a beautiful, wise man'. Yeah, who wants to burn gay people and blow up their heads."
Read the full profile at the London Evening Standard. It's very engaging. McCraney discusses growing up in poverty and as the son of a drug-addicted mother who later died of AIDS.
Last year, McCraney became a member of the prestigious Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company. McCraney's critically-acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays were performed last year at the theater and at two of London's most prestigious stages—The Young Vic in 2007 at the Royal Court in 2009.
"American Trade" opens at the Hampstead Theatre in London on June 2.
In February, the RSC released a video where McCraney explains the creative process behind "American Trade." Watch it AFTER THE JUMP ...
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