×

The Brothers Size

Landing near-simultaneous professional debuts in New York and London might be indication enough that an unknown 27-year-old playwright is one to watch, but the real proof comes in the work itself.

With:
Ogun - Gilbert Owuor Oshoosi - Brian Tyree Henry Elegba - Elliot Villar

Landing near-simultaneous professional debuts in New York and London might be indication enough that an unknown 27-year-old playwright is one to watch, but the real proof comes in the work itself. A recent M.F.A. graduate of Yale School of Drama, Tarell Alvin McCraney brings assured stagecraft and a distinctive lyrical voice to “The Brothers Size,” the story of two siblings in Bayou country, Louisiana, weaving together contemporary urban conflict and West African myth in a rich language that’s both poetic and colloquial.

Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis added the production to his fall schedule after it was seen earlier this year in the Public’s Under the Radar Festival. Eustis also has signaled his interest in developing and presenting McCraney’s entire trilogy, “The Brother/Sister Plays,” of which “The Brothers Size” is part.

Director Tea Alagic and the athletic trio of actors have been involved with the project since Yale. A separate production opens Nov. 13 at London’s Young Vic, with a staging at Dublin’s Abbey Theater to follow.

The ritualistic physicality of Alagic’s production is evident immediately, as percussionist Jonathan M. Pratt pounds drums on the side of the playing space while the shirtless actors step onto the almost bare stage and assume positions against the rear wall. Sole set element is a tight circle of white stones in the center, which serves as the uneasy bed on which Ogun (Gilbert Owuor) and Oshoosi (Brian Tyree Henry) sleep and dream.

Having raised his younger brother since their mother’s death, hard-working auto-shop owner Ogun feels the burden of responsibility and guilt every time directionless Oshoosi screws up. Fresh out of prison, the parolee bristles at his brother’s expectations and disappointment, resisting Ogun’s attempts to hustle him out of bed each morning to lock him into a job and a straight-and-narrow routine.

The fragile understanding between the siblings is threatened when Oshoosi’s prison buddy, Elegba (Elliot Villar), starts hanging around. An insidious charmer whose smiling, stalking presence in red trousers is the essence of temptation, Elegba draws a chalk circle around the brothers, upping his hand in their fate with a gift to Oshoosi of a car.

McCraney uses the brothers’ vividly enacted dreams and a series of evocative monologues to add detail to their world: Ogun recounts a sad story of a high school flame who mutilated herself to prove her love for his philandering friend; Oshoosi talks of losing himself in a prison library photo book about Madagascar, its images promising spiritual connection and escape; Ogun has a nightmare vision of Oshoosi and Elegba bound together, unable to separate.

There’s room for further maturity in the playwright’s story skills. The ending lacks punch, and narrative depth and character development don’t match the sinewy muscularity of the language, making the one-act play feel stretched despite clocking in at a lean 90 minutes.

But even as it deals with familiar themes — love and sacrifice; the conflict between brothers on opposite paths; the destabilizing forces of a prejudiced environment; the opposing pull of freedom and responsibility — the writing has freshness, clarity and vitality.

Alagic’s movement-based direction finds graceful correlatives for the insistent tribal rhythms of McCraney’s text, with Burke Brown’s sharp lighting and Pratt’s driving percussion adding further urgency to the spare but dynamic staging.

The three actors show impressive discipline, making seamless music out of dialogue that combines loose, slangy speech with stylized semi-verse, song and spoken stage directions. Henry and Owuor, in particular, generate real heat between them, the hurt that marks their bond and their division finding joyful, moving release when Oshoosi sings along with Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”

The Brothers Size

Public Theater/Shiva; 99 seats; $50 top

Production: A Public Theater presentation in association with the Foundry Theater of a play in one act by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Tea Alagic.

Creative: Set, Peter Ksander, Douglas Stein; costumes, Zane Pihlstrom; lighting, Burke Brown; original music, Vincent Olivieri; percussion/additional music, Jonathan M. Pratt; production stage manager, Barbara Reo. Opened Nov. 6, 2007. Reviewed Nov. 2. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Ogun - Gilbert Owuor Oshoosi - Brian Tyree Henry Elegba - Elliot Villar

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content