The Brothers Size
Directed by Derek Goldman
Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote The Brothers Size when he was 26, has been decorated with accolades since the play was presented at the 2007 Public Theatre’s Under the Radar festival. McCraney grew up in the housing projects of Miami, and used Brothers as a forum to display an America that often flies under the radar itself. His characters Ogun (Yaegel T. Welch) and Oshoosi (Chinaza Uche) are poor, and alone—there is no mention of their father, and their mother died when the boys were young (McCraney’s own mother died from AIDS-related illness at the age of 40). There is a lot of McCraney in this story, and that has a lot to do with its raw power.
Ogun is a car mechanic with his own shop in the Louisiana bayous. His little brother Oshoosi lives under his roof, but is worlds apart: He’s recently completed a two-year stint in prison, and dreams not of working, but of wandering. Elegba (Powell Lawrence), his friend—and perhaps a bit more—from prison, hangs around, tempting Oshoosi back into trouble while Ogun tries his best to get his brother straightened out. He gives him a job at his shop, but Oshoosi won’t wake up in time. He gives him advice, presses him to stay straight, but still finds Oshoosi smoking weed in the middle of the afternoon.
The characters are named after Yoruban gods—Ogun the Strong, Oshoosi the Wanderer, Elegba the Trickster—and the names reveal much about their personalities. Oshoosi’s arrest brings forward complications and emotions that had been left to simmer under the surface for most of the brothers’ lives. Oshoosi doesn’t want to discuss prison with his brother; Ogun tries to pretend he didn’t worry. But as they try to navigate life after prison, tensions pulsate and occasionally erupt in loud fights and haunting nightmares.
McCraney possesses a strong voice and unique storytelling style. One of the most effective devices he uses is having his characters read their stage directions aloud, melding them together so they become part of the script. This lends the play a surreal, myth-like quality: While the action feels real, having the characters narrate their own actions lifts them out of their bodies and turns them into storytellers themselves. The directions can also provide humor (of which there is plenty in this show). When Oshoosi says something particularly dense, Ogun looks at him quizzically and says, “Ogun Size looks at his brother like, ‘What the fuck?’”
This is an intense script, and could not have been pulled off without three equally intense actors, which Everyman certainly found in Welch, Uche, and Lawrence. Lawrence saunters around the stage in linen pants and a summer fedora, belting out songs in a choir-boy voice like there’s nothing around that could cause him a worry. Uche is clearly the baby brother, naive and full of dreams despite the hardships he’s faced, getting a boyish gleam in his eye when he talks of a picture book of Madagascar he looked at while in prison. But it’s Welch who is most memorable, perhaps simply because his older-brother role requires the most serious, imposing performance. Ogun is a classic male type: hardworking, simple, subtle about his emotions. He struggles with them throughout, and when he finally erupts at Oshoosi for all the years of torment raising him has caused him—“When you fall everyone look at me like I fucking pushed you,” he screams—the shock felt in the audience is matched by that painted on Oshoosi’s face.
Much of the beauty of this play comes from the script itself, the lines straddling a gap between poetry and prose. Bits of wisdom are peppered throughout like buried treasures: When comparing his own to dreams to that of Ogun’s, Oshoosi says simply, “Every man’s castle ain’t in England. Every man’s palace ain’t made of sand and gold and shit.” It’s a show that demands as much from its audience as it gives back, resulting in an emotional, immersive experience that should not be missed.