BWW Reviews: THE BROTHERS SIZE Weaves African Mythology and Bayou Rhythms into a Stylized Story of Brotherly Love
The Los Angeles premiere of THE BROTHERS SIZE at the Fountain Theatre, directed by Shirley Jo Finney, is an exuberantly theatrical drama that weaves together the pulsing rhythms of the bayou with African Yoruba mythology to create a stylized story of love and heartache.
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney describes the Yoruba as a cultural group that includes up to 40 million people with their homeland in Southwestern Nigeria, the largest group of African people enslaved in the 19th century. Yoruban practices and beliefs spread across the globe, intertwining with existing belied and rituals of other cultures, particularly in the American South.
The character names in the THE BROTHERS SIZE, the second play in McCraney's "Brother/Sister Plays" trilogy, invoke Yoruba orishas, or deities: Ogun is the god of iron-working, the patron deity of all those who use metal in their occupations. Oshoosi is the divine hunter associated with the human struggle for survival - cunning, intelligent and cautious. Elegba is the guardian of the crossroads of life, but is also well known for being the orisha of chaos and trickery who leads mortals into temptation.
Set on the back-roads of the Louisiana bayou, THE BROTHERS SIZE follows the path of the recently paroled Oshoosi Size (Matthew Hancock) as he seeks to jumpstart his life. Hancock is a bundle of raw nerves and incredible energy, moving like a caged animal as well as a joyous spirit looking to start living the life he has always wanted.
Working in an auto repair shop for his brother Ogun (Gilbert Glenn Brown), however, was not what Oshoosi had in mind. "It would not be called work if I want to do it," Oshoosi explains. Brown is the stalwart older brother, a strong guiding light doing his best to keep the lazy Oshoosi on the righteous path. Brown opens his soul and lets us see the deep frustration as well as his overwhelming love for his seemingly ungrateful brother.
When his old friend and prison "brother" Elegba (Theodore Perkins) rolls up, offering a different direction, Oshoosi quickly finds himself torn between his brother, his loyalties and his dreams. Perkins constantly slinks around and maneuvers his way in and out of the brothers' lives, using the intertwining bars and "window" in Hana Sooyeon Kim's set to great effect.
But what makes the play even more appealing than the skill of the actors is they always speak their stage directions, which invites the audience to remember they are in a theater and the story being told is for them, making them feel free to respond back when the spirit moves them to do so. This constant breaking of the 4th wall brings the audience more deeply into the hearts, minds and souls of the characters as well as the trials and tribulations each of them must face.
"Whose dream is it?" asks Finney, who received Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle directing awards for her work on McCraney's first play in the trilogy In the Red and Brown Water, which was named "Best in Theater, 2012" by the Los Angeles Times, one of the "10 Most Memorable Theater Moments of 2012" by the LA Weekly and "best of Los Angeles Theater 2012" by Bitter Lemons, the website that aggregates Los Angeles theater reviews. "The world of this play is set somewhere between waking and sleep and between the conscious and unconscious, in the blue-gray world where the spirit lies and heaven and earth intersect. It's about transformation, sacrifice and brotherly love."
Along with Hana Sooyeon Kim's set, kudos to all members of the production team who have melded their talents into a fine piece of theater: lighting design by Pablo Santiago; original music and sound design by Peter Bayne; costume design by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design by Misty Carlisle; choreography by Ameenah Kaplan; and especially the wonderfully melodic vocal arrangements and additional music by Brenda Lee Eager.
THE BROTHERS SIZE continues through July 27 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $34 (reserved seating). On Thursdays and Fridays only, students with ID are $25.
The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.
For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.