Three Yale grad actors emote and sing their way through this gripping tale of brotherhood set in pre-storm Louisiana to west-african rhythms and framework.
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
The prep work isn't hidden in Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size. Legs splayed and arms akimbo, physical actors Brian Tyree Henry (Oshoosi Size), Gilbert Owuor (Ogun Size), and Elliot Villar (Elegba) are all on display for the audience to see them breathe, motion, and think their way into the drama right up to the opening sequence. It is a welcome sight, one that is coated with warmth and that creates a pathway to the fundamentals of acting. We are instantly part of their community.
A cadence of drums ushers in Oshoosi, recent parolee, and brother Ogun, car mechanic. There is immediate friction as they embody the Spirits of the Wanderer and Iron, respectively. A circle of sand is drawn to denote the stage area, an earthy symbol that seems to have both practical and abstract significance. It seems to function as both a boundary and a dreamcatcher that lets good dreams out, rather than keep them in. The good dreams are Oshoosi's, freshly spit out of the Penitentiary with the belief that freedom and reuniting with Ogun are superlative. But bad dreams also creep in. Ogun, whose body is wracked with insomnia and restlessness, teeters between strength and weakness when his aversion towards Elegba, Oshoosi's friend from the Pen, is solidified by a nightmare. For Oshoosi, Elegba's presence is familial, once serving as the backup brother figure that he so desperately needed while imprisoned. But as Ogun muses, "You don't make no friends in the Pen."
Oshoosi and Ogun are a modern-day Cain and Abel, where the sacrifices are offered up to each other, rather than to God. The source of their conflict is synonymous with what binds them: an unrelenting love for each other that is threatened by lofty expectations. Henry's Oshoosi is carefree and spirit-filled to Owuor's tense and spiritless Ogun. They lobby monologues back and forth to each other like seasoned pros, replete with focus and intensity. Despite muted body language during these monologues and direction that often creates inexplicable, great physical distance between them, these two actors have chemistry even when their characters do not.
Villar's Elegba, the purported evildoer of the play, brings levity to an otherwise dense piece. His predator is likable even during his counterfeit moments with Oshoosi. McCraney cleverly re-enacts these moments between Oshoosi and Ogun, allowing us a glimpse of real sibling tenderness and pointing out the pitfalls of transference.
McCraney uses third-person narrative generously, unfolding the rudimentary components of a myth and the charm of camp-fire storytelling within a modern-day narrative. It is amusing and fresh at first, but quickly loses its weight. Some of the phrases and actions seem to be arbitrarily chosen in the third-person, with no distinction over the rest.
The musical numbers are well-choreographed and appreciated, particularly since the majority of the percussion is done by the actors themselves. These are hard-working actors, multi-talented with techniques that are bred with training.
The Brothers Size is an allegory for lost time and regret. It is an ardent celebration of tradition with a loose structure that seats us inside the action. It is cerebral, spiritual, and innovative. If you're looking for a nice departure from the standard theatrical form, you'll find it here, beautiful in its vibrations and timbre.
Part of the Under the Radar Festival. Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Tea Alagic (New York). Running Time: 90 minutes. The Public Theater: 425 Lafayette Street. $15 Tickets: publictheater.org or 212-967-7555. Through January 28th.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.