REVIEW: Ancram Opera House’s ‘The Brothers Size’ an intimate, powerful production
The Brothers Size
By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Martine Green-Rogers
It’s hard to imagine a more intimate or powerful production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” than the probing, searing version onstage at the Ancram Opera House. Director Martine Kei Green-Rogers totally realizes McCraney’s multitextured storytelling of prose, song and dance, putting three fabulous actors in your face (just about) off a thrust stage and into the audience in the compact old grange hall in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley.
In prologue, prophetically, three Black men chant, in a cappella that blends chain gang with African spiritual, “the road is rough.” It will turn out rough for each, who are just getting by on the edge of the Louisiana bayou. Ogun Size (Geovonday Jones) has a car mechanic shop but he’s mostly preoccupied with the return under his shanty roof of younger half brother Oshoosi (Jovan “Kofi” Davis) who’s just spent two years in prison. Ogun’s a lonely guy, lost his girlfriend and has been taking care of Oshoosi since their mother’s death when they were preteens. Neither knew a father. Oshoosi’s still a troubled kid, but more trouble arrives when Elegba (Brian Demar Jones), an older ex-con and Oshoosi’s buddy in prison, comes ’round. Ogun’s suspicious of Elegba’s interest in his kid brother. Oshoosi, a real charmer, is both haunted by prison time with Elegba and susceptible to Elegba’s attentions.
Elegba’s intention with Oshoosi drives the plot, but “The Brothers Size” is, beyond brotherhood, really about the cost and nature of Black manhood. McCraney, award-winning playwright of the trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays,” of which “Brothers Size” is part, is best known in theater as Tony Award-nominee for Best Play for “Choir Boy” and in film, for his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Moonlight,” the Best Picture winner. Here, as in most of his work, McCraney plumbs what tests the bonds of love and loyalty among Black men: not just the practical challenges of absent fathers, poverty and police harassment, but also the spiritual barriers of alienation, loneliness, masculinity and sexuality. Black DL runs like a subcurrent through “The Brothers Size”; McCraney goes there.
McCraney fully embeds African culture in the 90-minute, one-act play that had simultaneous 2007 premieres at the Public in New York and at London’s Young Vic. In Yoruban culture, Ogun is the god of iron and metalwork: brother Ogun is a mechanic. Oshoosi is the god of the hunter: brother Oshoosi is searching how to survive (and uncertain how). Director Green-Rogers and scenic designer Sarah Edkins imaginatively appoint the set, Ogun’s one-room shanty, with sculptures—animals, a warrior totem—of used machine parts. Most ingeniously, the set doubles as Ogun’s car shop.
The trio is superb, finding the rhythms in McCraney’s naturalistic prose and navigating seamlessly transitions between dream sequences and song. Outstanding are three scenes: a confrontation between Ogun and Elegba (named after the Yoruban god of treachery); a riveting recounting by Oshoosi of a flight fantastic that concludes with an encounter with the law; and an exuberant, joyful celebration of the brothers in song to Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness.” Nothing compares, however, to the shattering climax; the Black man’s journey doesn’t end.
The Brothers Size plays at the Ancram Opera House, 1330 County Route 7, Ancram, New York, through Sunday, Aug. 25. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call (518) 329-0114 or go to ancramoperahouse.org.