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Volume 20, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Nov. 30 - Dec. 6, 2007

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Photo by Michal Daniel

Gilbert Owuor (front) as Ogun and Brian Tyree Henry as Oshoosi in “The Brothers Size” by Tarrel Alvin McCraney, now at the Public.

From the Public, the sound of a sizable new voice

By Wickham Boyle

Brotherly love is a term often tossed though rarely parsed, but in the new play at the Public Theater called “The Brothers Size”, one cannot help but come away with the palpable sensation that you have actually experienced the raw, gut- wrenching love that brothers grapple with in modern life.

The brothers in questions are African American men trying to make a living in New Orleans and also biological brothers. The elder is Ogun Size, played by Gilbert Owuor and Brian Tyree Henry is the younger as Oshooi Size and the one who seems to find trouble. The story is often propelled by the interactions with Elegba (Elliot Villar), Oshoosi’s friend from prison. Jonathan M. Pratt completes the cast as an on stage percussionist. Each is excellent; together they are amazing.

The play begins with the three actors, bare-chested in loose trousers, taking position in the brick arches of the Public’s intimate Shiva Theater. The men command attention as the percussive beat scrubs the air, creating an immediate sense of place. Playwright Tarrel Alvin McCraney entrusts Ogun Size with the task of setting the stage for all the action, including an ongoing dialogue that is part stage direction, part inner monologue. “Ogun Size enters,” says Gilbert Owour and the story unfolds.

Here are men caught up in the net of what it means to be male. They question industriousness, sexuality, friendship, family and society at large. Ogun, the older, is motivated and has been since his parents died and left the brothers to fend for themselves in a nefarious family and a cold world. Ogun learned early that “death kills the lazy last.” So he lives his life hustling, working as a mechanic in his own shop and constantly repairing and renovating his home. He works to keep his demons at bay, while Oshoosi sleeps and dreams, or parties to control his.

The play is powerful because the unexpected interactions between brothers and the wayward friend all echo the dramas we watch nightly in the news or in TV’s “cop” shows: Young urban men, growing up in disenfranchised families, attempting to make their way in the world. Some drift to lawlessness, others strive to work so hard that they gain ownership of a piece of the American dream, but the path is not easy for either.

Couple this societal disconnect with the difficulty of growing up male, anywhere. The coming up male struggle, which from my female perceptive as a mother, sister, and wife can only be described as watching wild weather wage a constant battle, makes “The Brothers Size” an eye-opening evening of theater. This young playwright, who just graduated from the Yale Drama School in May, is a voice to be heard and reckoned with. McCraney and his coterie of actors, designers and director Tea Alagic have brought a different, vibrant voice to the Downtown theater scene. It is a pleasure to be challenged and rewarded in equal measure during a 90-minute foray into the lives of brothers whose struggle is emblematic for so much of what we, as Americans, have left untouched. For me this is the essence of theater: telling a story that extends beyond the bounds of its characters and doing it with a spare, distilled production that leaves little doubt as to the importance of the work. “The Brothers Size” is such a production.

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