The Brothers Size
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 4, 2007
The Brothers Size is a taut, compact, intimate play by Tarell Alvin McCraney about filial love and responsibility. Ogun, the elder of the two title characters, is an auto mechanic; Oshoosi has recently been released from prison and is living under Ogun's roof. When we first meet them, the two are adversaries: Oshoosi is uninterested in adopting his brother's careful lifestyle, while Ogun is determined that Oshoosi get a job or get out of his house.
Ogun gives Oshoosi a job at his garage, but temptation arrives in the form of Elegba, who was in prison with Oshoosi. Eventually Elegba embroils Oshoosi in a potentially catastrophic situation, and Ogun must search inside himself to decide whether/how to save his brother.
It's an affecting tale, but a small one; director Tea Alagic's production, full of stylization and technique that often feels more portentous than necessary to the telling, diminishes it further. The press release and a brief reference within a program note indicate that the play has something to do with West African mythology. Not being at all versed in West African mythology, I didn't understand the allusions and indeed spent a lot of the play's running time feeling confused.
The play begins with the actor who plays Elegba creating a large circle on the stage floor, using sand or salt. Much of the action—but not all—is played out within the circle. Every time something happened outside the circle I wondered why.
All three of the actors are bare-chested; the actors playing Ogun and Elegba are also both barefoot. I wondered why.
Throughout the play, the actors often speak their dialogue and their stage directions (i.e., they announce, in the third person, that their character will perform a certain action, and then they perform that action). I wondered why.
An Internet search yields the information that both Ogun and Elegba are deities in the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa (respectively, according to Wikipedia, they're a warrior/metalworker god and the god of travelers). I wonder what more I might have gotten out of The Brothers Size if a program note had been provided to explain this.
I suspect that the theatrical concepts applied here also have roots in West African traditions, and I would have liked to know more about them too. The theatre is a great place to teach audiences about other cultures: why risk alienating people by failing to provide information that will help them appreciate a particular work?
I'll conclude by saying that all three actors—Gilbert Owuor (Ogun), Brian Tyree Henry (Oshoosi), and Elliot Villar (Elegba)—do fine work, as does Jonathan M. Pratt, who provides riveting live percussion accompaniment to the action.