Tarell Alvin McCraney is leaving Miami. His clothes are spread around a room in a friend's house in Hialeah, and the tall, elegant 32-year-old with a mile-wide smile is packing his bags for Chicago. But don't worry. This city's most important playwright isn't abandoning us.
For the past five years, McCraney has bounced from the Yale School of Drama to stages in New York, Illinois, and England. Along the way, his acting and writing skills have won him dozens of accolades, including membership in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a residency at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. The Brother/Sister Plays, his stirring trilogy about poor African-Americans in a Louisiana housing project, earned him the New York Times' first Outstanding Playwright Award.
Throughout his sojourns, however, Miami has pulled at McCraney. He grew up in a Liberty City still smoldering from the McDuffie riots. His mother had substance-abuse problems and contracted HIV. McCraney suffered for being a gay black man, but it hardened his commitment to the city. He says he is "Miami-Dade made."
"I am trying to prove myself to Miami," he says. "People who are sort of weird or alternative to the mainstream... can help steer the way we culturally create ourselves. I had to learn that the hard way. As I got older, I realized, Oh, I am needed here in Miami."
He cites burgeoning visual art and electronic music scenes as well as professional dancers who have left the city for fame elsewhere. "What we've done for a long time is export our goods. Now it's time for us to reap the benefits of what we grow here."
With that in mind, McCraney is tackling his latest local project — directing a 90-minute adaptation of Hamlet. It will run from January 12 through February 10 at GableStage. McCraney hopes to eventually establish a winter Shakespeare festival here, but one that suits this city. "No one wants to sit through a depressing story for four hours when you could be outside listening to hip-hop or salsa," he admits.
Even as McCraney packs his bags for Chicago, he promises to return. How can he stay away, he says, when autumn's evening breezes smell of Florida oaks, barbecue, and blooming gardenias? "There is no city on earth that can boast that type of fragrance. And there is no other place that I could call home."