San Diego, CA---When The Old Globe replaced the ‘old’ Cassius Carter in the round theatre and constructed the beautiful Conrad Prebys Theatre Center that now includes the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage and Sheryl and Harvey White ‘now’ Theatre in the round the press was taken on a walking tour to marvel at the latest that technology had to offer; new seats, new access on and off the stage, new everything.
All that is well and good, but in director Tea Alagic’s production of Terell Alvin McCraney’s Southern California premiere of “The Brothers Size” in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre an empty stage covered in what looks to be a bluish green carpet (Peter Ksander), the formation of a bed of stones in the center and a ring of sand outlining the space Ogun Henri Size (Joshua Ellis Reese is unforgettable) calls home is all that is needed to tell this coming of age story. Inside the ring is what happens in the homestead. Outside is where everything else is going on.
And the set is not all that’s bare boned. The actors three, stripped to the waist in either jeans or cutoffs, with little or nothing covering their upper torsos are muscle-bound and flexed to the core as tightly tied as they are to the myths, music and dance that encompass the story. They wrest with their emotions as the younger Oshoosi Size (Okieriete Onaodowan) returns to his brother’s home after a two-year stint in prison.
“Brother Size” is a complex study in brotherly love, sexuality and facing the realities of adulthood. However, underlying these themes in “Brother Size’ is the need to be free, to wander, to walk the streets without answering to the ‘white’ man (especially after being in jail) and finally to break away from the family ties and traditional mores that continually limit and haunt.
Ogun (the orisha of iron/fire and war) has a garage where he repairs cars near the Bayou in St. Pere Louisiana and is proud of the business and reputation he has built for himself. While fed up with his younger brother’s drifting and lack of direction, he nonetheless tries to rein him in on many different levels by offering him a job, a home and ultimately, the freedom to fly on his own.
Oshoosi Size (the orisha of hunting/free spirit) is not interested in work period. He resists the idea and he’s plain tired. His dreams/nightmares keep him up nights and he seems to sleep best in the later mornings that in turn make him late for work in his brother's garage. When his prison pal, the alluring Elegba (Antwayn Hopper) keeps pulling at him and away from the family, calling him his ‘prison brother’, the friction between the Size brothers becomes explosive.
Ogun presses his brother to tell him what went on in prison as the relationship between Oshoosi and Elegba (the trickster) looks to him more than brother to brother love but Oshoosi begs off with no answers.
“The Brothers Size” is part of McCraney’s acclaimed trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays” which also includes “In The Red and Brown Water” (recently produced and seen at UCSD) and “Marcus”; or “the Secret of Sweet”. It is inspired by Yoruba life and traditions.
Much of the Yoruba culture made its way to the United States during the years of the Atlantic slave trade and is combined with indigenous traditions and Christian teachings. The music throughout is Caribbean influenced with the foundation being the percussions especially the conga drum (a symbol of communication) that is heard before the plays beginning and throughout. Much of it is improvised and gives the story layers of depth. (Otis Redding and Teddy Pendergrass)
His Brother/Sister trilogy is set in the Louisiana projects and explores Yoruba mythology. McCraney combines the traditional religious (part folklore) and spiritual concepts of the Yorba people (whose homeland is in West Africa) with parts of the rituals in Yorba mythology. They include song; history, story telling and cultural concepts that concentrate strongly on ones own destiny or fate. Combining these myths and traditions with Southern beats and rhythms, dance and music of the Bayou McCraney has crafted one very absorbing piece of theatre.
While the play is intense, wracked with tension and laced with humor, it belongs body and soul to the three actors (and one musician, percussionist Jonathan Melville Pratt), all simply outstanding, each owning his own turf and appropriately named for the deity that embodies their spirit.
Every character and actor in his own voice is as convincing as the next and while the ensemble is about as strong as any seen in some time Joshua Elijah Reese's Ogun pretty much controls the direction of the play about as much as Antwayn Hooper's Elegba haunts it.
Caught in the middle of his own devices Okieriete Onaodowan’s, Oshoosi is the dreamer, the younger brother always in the shadows of his of his older brother and torn between growing up and following his dreams. Therein lies the conflict that drives the story.
Reese, serious yet loving to the point that he finally realizes that when you love someone as much as he does his younger brother, you just have to let it go. His decision to protect his brother while giving him his freedom is a heartbreaker.
A word must be noted as well about McCraney’s storytelling style. He uses his characters to read their stage directions out loud melding them into the script as if it were something done all the time. In a sense it takes them out of the story while they become the storytellers. It’s most effective.
Ogun Size Stands in the early morning,
with a shovel in his hand.
He begins his work on the driveway, Huh!)
A word of caution: The play, while only about 90 minutes, has strong language and is only appropriate for mature audiences. If you fit into that category, don’t miss it!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 24th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre