Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Brothers Size" ☼ ☼ ☼ Plus

Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" is the last thing you hear, and it is the message Ogun Size (Joshua Elijah Reese) and Oshoosi Size (Tobie Windham) have been trying to communicate to each other since the opening curtain. "The Brothers Size" is hard-hitting and honest, with three acting performances you will not be able to get out of your mind.

The story is heavy on cultural myth -- the flawed humans on stage all carry the names of ancient Yoruba gods. Ogun is the god of iron and in the story he is the big brother who owns an auto repair shop. Oshoozi is the god of fecundity. Here, he has just gotten out of prison and is bursting to sow his wild oats. Egelba is the Yoruba god of the crossroads. When he tells the truth he lies and when he lies he tells the truth. He is played beautifully by Alex Ubokudom. Egelba the human is the bad devil on Oshoozi's shoulder. The two were in prison together and Egelba remembers their unspoken intimacy there. He wants more. Oshoozi is not so sure.

Author Tarell Alvin McCraney grew up in the projects of Liberty City, outside of Miami, Florida. Perhaps he knows something about momentous decisions. Oshoozi Size has a big one to make -- does he do the easy thing and hang out with Egelba, where he is certain to get back into more trouble, violate his parole and end up returning to prison, or does he listen to Ogun, his elder brother who has been his role model most of his life, and come to work in the car shop, straighten up and fly right?

Octavio Solis is a great director. The show has innovative touches, in some ways like a Word 4 Word production in which stage directions are spoken (and performed) by the actors, and in other ways like a Shakespearean drama where you see the inner torments of each character. You see how impossible it is for Ogun to open up to his little brother, and you also see how much they both long for it. And you can't help but understand the inevitability of the finale.

Author McCraney could scarcely be hotter right now, with three plays premiering within a few weeks of each other. "The Brothers Size" is the second of the "Brother-Sister Plays." Judging from his fecund output, we are guessing Terrel Alvin McCraney has a lot of Oshoozi in him.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ Plus

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Brothers Size" Three Stars Plus. Each actor deserves one star each and the show's power and innovation makes it more than a three star production.

This reviewer has a few small stones to toss into the pond. There are no surprises here -- the story ends where you knew it would. The location is Southern Louisiana but none of the actors talk like it. And the show is probably funnier than it shows, since there are jokes and innuendo that fly over the heads of a traditional American theater audience.

But these are small pebbles and should cause few ripples. We have all been Oshoozi and we have all been Ogun. "The Brothers Size" makes us think about tenderness and the price you pay to find it.

"The Brothers Size"
Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Oct. 17

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