Leaving the theater on opening night of The Brothers Size, I had the oddest sensation of entering an imaginary world as I stepped into the cozy bright lobby. Inside the dark theater, we’d been immersed in a rough reality, overwashed with waves of a mystic reality. Subsumed as a group in the rhythmic drumming, our hearts beat together with those of the characters before us, locked with them into the sustained intensity of their struggles. Outside, there were cakes and wine, smart chat, separate parties. Life seemed pale beside this art.
The Brothers Size (which runs about 100 minutes without intermission) is part of a trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney. It debuted in 2007, when the author was only 27 years old. It’s an amazing script, in terms of character, story, intensity, clarity and inventiveness. Some may find elements of the language distasteful, but it all seemed appropriate to the people and situation. A white person could not have written this, though, and there is no fashionable cross-race casting. These three characters are black men, as well as representing three of the Yoruba orisa, and they need to be played by black men.
Ogun Size is a hard man, like his namesake, and has built himself a car repair business. His main concerns are survival and protection, and he comes on singing, like a work chant, “this road is rough.” Kashif Powell, in a coverall, plays Ogun with almost unbearable rigid force. His younger brother, Oshoosi Size, has recently gotten out of prison and is living with Ogun. Oshoosi is concerned with freedom—with being and feeling free—and J. Alphonse Nicholson gives him a fluid, willowy physicality. (Jeremy V. Morris will portray this role in the second half of the play’s run.) Elegba—deity of the crossroads, and a trickster—is Oshoosi’s friend from prison. Thaddaeus Edwards, all in black, with a black sequined belt, gives the seductive Elegba a sly, knowing look as he glides in and out the scenes, instigating.
Working with director Joseph Megel, and with the aid of drummer Teli S. Shabu, the brothers engage in a dance of thought and feeling, with outbursts of song. They dance all around the idea of freedom. Do you live hard or live easy? Prison is not the only lockup. You can be stuck like a stone, unfree in other ways. Some you can escape, but you can never escape your brother. He will always be your brother: You will call for him; you will let him go; you will not leave him behind—and his inescapability is another kind of freedom.
Near the show’s end, the two brothers Size sum up the method for reconciling their differing characters, which Elegba has set at odds. In Derrick Ivey’s bleak set made of rope and old tires, they put on Otis Redding, and “Try a Little Tenderness” blossoms from their throats. Young girls are not the only ones who get weary on the rough road. Even a man hard as iron needs that balm.
This article was first published in The Independent Weekly, appearing in print with the headline “Tall tales and karaoke nights.” It is available on www.indyweek.com. The original contained an author error, corrected on the Indy site and above. Correction: Running time is about 100 minutes (not 140 minutes).