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It's fitting that Miami native and New World School of the Arts graduate Tarell Alvin McCraney brought his younger brother to the South Florida debut of McCraney's seminal one-act play, The Brothers Size, at GableStage this past Saturday. The two towered stoically over the after-show reception, breathing in accolades and looking like mirror images of one another. Both boasted horn-rimmed glasses and an unshakably amiable style. (McCraney wore a slick gray suit, skinny black tie, and pristine white Converse sneakers. Boom!) The play tells us little of McCraney's own relationship with his sibling. Instead, it tells the heartrending and elegant tale of two brothers living in the Louisiana bayou.
Well, maybe there was the scene in which the fictional brothers, Ogun and Oshoosi, playfully sing and dance to Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." "We used to do that," McCraney told us as his brother looked on, smiling and nodding. "We would dance and sing in our apartment to old songs. I'd pretend to play the keyboard, and he'd sing."
It's the play's most honest and endearing scene, and it illustrates the unbreakable bond between Ogun and Oshoosi despite their differences. It also reveals everything we need to know about McCraney as a playwright. Because The Brothers Size is one of those works in which any sibling can see himself. And that's evidence of a balls-out script by a kick-ass writer.
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Performed on a stripped-down, barren stage, the story of the Size brothers is steeped in West African mythology and religion. It tells a rich, dense tale through fantastic acting and simplified direction. This is McCraney's first crack at directing one of his own plays, and he knocks it out of the park. He simply gets the hell out of the way and lets the actors tell the story.
To make a great performance even better, The Brothers Size features music by Otis Redding as well as Teddy Pendergrass, which automatically makes any play 100 percent more badass.
The plot is driven by the classic responsible-big-brother/reckless-little-brother dynamic, a sort of modern-day Cain and Abel where bad luck, personality clashes, and sincere love drive the relationship. Ogun (Sheaun McKinney), who owns an auto repair shop, is saddled with responsibility for younger brother, Oshoosi (Ryan George), who recently got out of prison and lives life with his head in the clouds.
Oshoosi reflects on his newfound freedom. Time served, he says, is "waiting, crying, waiting." He is filled with a burning wanderlust, aiming to jump into a car and drive wherever the road takes him. Prison has made Oshoosi long for real, tangible freedom. "All I see are faces that tell me what's wrong with me," he says.
Ogun, meanwhile, has borne the load of being his brother's keeper since the two were children. "When you fuck up, I fuck up!" he laments. "That's my life sentence! My lockdown!"
Ogun, exasperated by his brother's mischievous and playful attitude, constantly admonishes him. Oshoosi wants to venture beyond his brother's garage to where the air is dewy-fresh and the ladies are just dewy. Their bond is further strained when Oshoosi's prison mate, Elegba, played by a surreptitious and seductive Teo Castellanos, suddenly shows up one day.
The characters in The Brothers Size are based on deities from Yoruba mythology, and McCraney craftily maneuvers all three men to reflect their respective deity's traits.
Oshoosi is the wanderer deity, while Ogun is a maker of weapons and builder of bridges. "It is said sometimes Oshoosi wanders and gets lost," McCraney explained. "And Ogun must build tools to find his brother."
"Elegba is a trickster deity," Castellanos told us about his character. "He is a deity of crossroads." This certainly shows when Elegba's presence is felt in every decision Oshoosi is ultimately faced with. And — as is evident when Elegba sings the chorus to Teddy Pendergrass's "Come Go With Me" as he reminisces about their time in the joint — Castellanos after the show disclosed, "He's in love with Oshoosi. But Oshoosi doesn't feel the same way."
Elegba is likable, but also kind of a menace. You're not sure whether this dude is to be trusted or not. And that is just the point.
The story rests entirely on the actors' shoulders, and all three turn in flawless performances as men with frayed souls; each deals with the past in his own way while struggling to grasp the future. McKinney carries Ogun's heavy heart with quiet intensity, and George is charming and affecting as the restless Oshoosi. The always-amazing Castellanos keeps the production anchored.
Whether it's African drumbeats and a Tibetan ringing bowl echoing throughout the theater at different intervals, or the engaging manner in which the characters call out their own stage directions for emphasis ("Ogun comes from under the car! Ogun goes back under the car!"), McCraney's script is at once deep, intelligent, funny, and resonant.
The Brothers Size is provocative, charming, heart-wrenching, hilarious, and emotionally charged. It's a heady brew of awesome sauce that once again proves GableStage's predominance while also shedding light on McCraney's insane talent. The production is so simple — it lasts only 70 minutes — that every note must be hit perfectly. And all parties nail it.
Under others directors, the play has been seen by audiences from New York to London. Now McCraney's hometown can get a glimpse of the local rising voice of stage.