“The Brothers Size” is a compact, intense play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana projects. It’s three characters – Ogun Size, Oshoosi Size and Elegba – are all named after gods of Yoruba mythology. While their troubles – recovering from time spent in prison, staying afloat, finding love – may at first seem trivial, they soon take on epic ramifications.
Now the theater company is back with “The Brothers Size,” with Marion McClinton again in the director’s chair. While a couple of critics say the show has a few rough edges, all agree it’s an important production that merits seeing.
Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size and James A. Williams as Ogun Size in “The Brothers Size”
From Sophie Kerman at AisleSayTwinCities.com:
Each of the three characters is performed with almost brutal compassion. In every moment of anger, resentment, resignation or discomfort, the skill of the playwright, actors, and director Marion McClinton combine to paint a vivid picture of the forces that shape and entrap each man. Freedom, for these three, is always visible and always elusive: whether hemmed in by physical bars, financial and psychological obligations, or fear of a cold legal system, each character operates in a world with very few options. Even women seem to represent a distant island which has drifted just beyond reach.
James A. Williams as Ogun Size in Pillsbury House Theatre’s production of “The Brothers Size”
McClinton’s heart-rendingly poetic production has a minimal but efficacious design. Andrea Heilman gives us layered platforms that are used variously for beds and Ogun’s shop. The workman’s clothes are by Kalere Payton, and the mood-altering lights by Michael Wangen.
Choreographer Patricia Brown harmonized the three actors’ movements, which included a stylized high-stepping march and some Temptations-style dancing, while Ahanti Young, hitherto known as a fine interpreter of August Wilson characters, gives “Brothers Size” its rhythmic heartbeat by playing percussion on an elevated drum set.
Gavin Lawrence as Elegba and Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size in “The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Director Marion McClinton and the company infuse the show with an intense physicality, while also riding gentler, musical rhythms. Midway through, Oshoosi oversleeps and is forced to walk from home to his brother’s shop. His walk turns into a kind of march, aided by percussionist Ahanti Young, as he trudges along in the intense Gulf Coast heat. Decades of personal disappointment play out with each step Smallwood takes, intensified by the chanting and singing of Williams and Lawrence. Hours of dialogue may not have said as much as these brief minutes onstage.
Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size
These strong performances add up formidably in this staging of “The Brothers Size.” If the whole production is somewhat less than the sum of those parts, this is still a story — and a playwright — that merits attention.
Is the play flawless? No. The speaking-out-loud of stage directions (“Elegba returns”, “Ogun goes back under the car”) rather quickly became tiresome and the long analysis of Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” felt over-wrought, off-the-mark and, for me, interfered with the emotional build of the play. Still, The Brothers Size is grim, gritty, inspiring.
‘The Brothers Size’ runs through September 29 at the Guthrie Theater in the Dowling Studio. Have you seen it? If so, what’s your review?
All photos by Michal Daniel