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March 20, 2012

'The Brothers Size' a great fit at Everyman Theatre

There’s no mistaking a strong new voice in theater, someone who surprises and challenges, who creates fresh ways to examine familiar issues.

Tarell Alvin McCraney emerged a few years ago as such a voice when, still in his 20s, he unveiled a trilogy of plays set in the Louisiana bayou and loosely based on Yoruban mythology of West Africa.

The second of these pieces, “The Brothers Size” from 2007, has been particularly well-received in stagings across the country and abroad. It is now at Everyman Theatre in a searing production that hits you with a double, equal force — the imagination of the writing, and the power of the performers.

At its heart, the play is about the bonds of family, how they can go much deeper than we will ever know until they are threatened. Sibling attachments are hardly unexplored in drama. What McCraney does so well is ...

spin his plot, set in “the distant present,” from unexpected threads that lead in unexpected directions. We are kept on edge as we are drawn inside.

The characters have names and archetypal traits derived from Yoruban gods. None of this is crucial to understanding the play, mind you, but fascinating.

Ogun Size is the strong one, with a solid business repairing cars and an unshakable work ethic. He’s the tough-love dispenser, but with a softer, easily penetrated side beneath the veneer.

Ogun’s brother Oshoosi is the wandering one, antsy for an adventure — a trip to Mexico, maybe — or just for sex. His tendencies land him in trouble; he has just been released from jail when the play opens.

Then there is Elegba, named after the trickster god, the tempter. He’s a cousin to Sportin’ Life in “Porgy and Bess,” strangely cool and beguiling, always popping up to take advantage of a situation. Elegba shared a cell and a whole lot more with Oshoosi, and he clearly wants to reclaim something of what they had — even if neither man really understands what that was.

Put these ingredients into a play bound up heavily in mythical matters, and you’d likely have quite a bore. McCraney leaves all that in the background, so that the implications can sink in later, when you find yourself still thinking about everything you’ve seen and heard (and you will).

McCraney’s language achieves a striking richness at times, as when a woman’s sadness is likened to an after-rain breeze. But the poetry is so deftly applied that it never turns arch. There’s abundant humor, too, in the text.

The people in this play, prone to throwing profanity and the N-word around, remain down-to-earth even when they speak stage directions to the audience (“Ogun exits,” etc.) — one of the playwright’s quirkier, but oddly appealing, ideas.

Using a theater-in the-round set-up and a spare, evocative scenic design by Daniel Ettinger, the Everyman production provides an almost uncomfortably intimate experience. The cast, directed with a sure eye for detail by Derek Goldman, creates a brilliant, finely meshed ensemble that moves with choreographic eloquence.

Yaegel T. Welch brings a compelling voice and layers of telling texture to the role of Ogun. Chinaza Uche likewise taps effectively into the multiple elements that make up Oshoosi. The two men do extraordinarily affecting work in the play’s most cathartic scene for the brothers, ignited by a vintage Ottis Redding record.

Powell Lawrence shines as Elegba, so sinewy and assured in movement, yet with eyes that subtly speak of the character’s vulnerability and longing.

The play sometimes loses steam, and the ending lacks weight. But, by any measure, “The Brothers Size” is a major achievement. So is this production.

Performances run through April 15.


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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