Remember the name Tarell Alvin McCraney. At 31 years old, he holds a graduate degree from the Yale School of Drama, has received numerous accolades within the playwriting community, and penned The Brother/Sister Plays, a trilogy that has gained global attention. Syracuse Stage’s mounting of the first in the trilogy, The Brothers Size, is a masterpiece of modern theater that cannot be ignored, let alone missed.
Loosely based on Yoruba (a region in West Africa) religious beliefs and gods, The Brothers Size operates in a dream world based in reality. Confusing? Only on paper. When the Brothers Size, Ogun the elder and Oshoosi the younger, and Elegba, Oshoosi’s former cellmate and both Brothers’ current foe, interact it is within the conscious and the unconscious, the real and the unreal. The play is in “the distant present,” the location is San Pere, Louisiana, near the Bayou. Recently released from jail, Oshoosi is haunted by Elegba, while living and working with Ogun. The action revolves around Oshoosi and his quest to assimilate to life post-incarceration. It’s the fraternal relationships, however, that make up the heart of the production.
Joshua Elijah Reese (as Ogun) in THE BROTHERS SIZE.
The play’s kinetic energy is evident from moment one. All three characters (young men with abs that could cut diamonds) enter in a whirlwind. As Elegba creates a delicate circle of sand, the Brothers Size dance, jump, and clap around the circumference. The movement tapers off but is never forgotten. The speechification of stage directions is one of the play’s primary tropes. “Ogun Size enters,” “Oshoosi Size smiles,” “Ogun Size slides back under car, annoyed,” accent the characters’ movements and emotions. This exercise, which could easily come across as gimmicky, is masterful in Director Tim Bond’s hands. He uses these orations to accent the humor, but eases off when the drama intensifies. As a result, they never appear to clutter the action. Instead, they offer insight into motivation and internal dialogues. In his play, McCraney realizes, in the most literal sense, that actions speak louder than words.
Each member of this small cast commits to his character with veracity. As the antagonist Elegba, Sam Encarnación slithers in and out of Oshoosi’s life. He’s the perfect villain, his passion for Oshoosi evident in his fixed stare, his presence alone a destructive force in the Brothers’ lives.
In the role of Oshoosi’s blood brother Ogun, Joshua Elijah Reese is a wounded father figure, his emotions boiling to the surface, only occasionally spilling over. Reese never lets go of his main motivation, which is the safety and freedom of his brother. “Don’t stop till you free,” he advises Oshoosi, attempting to cradle him in the comfort of his love.
Rodrick Covington shines as Oshoosi. He embodies every paradox of childhood; he is troublesome yet endearing, lazy yet carefree, confident yet helplessly adrift. Covington’s facial expressions and genuine reactions reveal all of these subtleties. His is a performance you won’t soon forget.
The behind-the-scenes efforts are as notable as the ones onstage. Jessica Ford’s scenic design revels in beautiful simplicity. She emphasizes the dreamlike world of the play by keeping the setting allegorical; the majority of the action takes place within the circle of sand Elegba creates. The delicate light design by Geoff Korf highlights the circle, one moment illuminating and the next darkening like the wax and wane of the sun.
If you’re looking for a passive evening of theater – The Brothers Size isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you yearn for a production that challenges your notions of what constitutes a play, then you better run to Syracuse Stage. This early work from a playwright with a bright future is bound to become a modern American classic.