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picture - The Brothers SizeTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 8, 2007


The Brothers Size

now playing Off Broadway at the Public Theater

through December 23


Two brothers, on a bayou in Louisiana, locked into the eternal mythic relationship of siblings – need, rivalry, love – sing and dance and do some fancy footwork skating around on the precipice of life: that is the subject of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size,” and it is a play that has, pardon the pun, size.


The two brothers are Ogun (Gilbert Owuor), a mechanic, and Oshoosi (Brian Tyree Henry), an ex-convict, and they are seen by their creator as both ordinary guys and as variations of characters from West African folklore. In a natural setting, the story – how they come to discover each one’s search for himself through the other – would be pretty straightforward and pretty well drawn and pretty familiar. But, in the context of this particular piece, they are also West African deities and their struggle, to the constant beat of Jonathan M. Pratt’s pulsating percussive rhythms and within the ritualistic circle of Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein’s set design, looms larger and larger until the stage can hardly contain the power and dimension of their shared experience. 


It would be wonderful to say, given all the excitement on display, that this is a fully satisfying evening in the theater, but, unfortunately, it isn’t quite that. The playwright’s immaturity peeks through in odd but transparent ways. The leaps in language from the mundane to the incantatory are not always graceful. The concept of speaking the stage directions aloud is, after all, a concept, and one that is not particularly original and one which sometimes works and sometimes proves distracting. And, though, thanks to the intricacies of Tea Alagic’s direction, the movement is lovingly stylized, there are too many moments when one longs for the action to stop and stand still.  The interactions are  stunning to behold, but the revelations they yield are not anywhere near as stunning. A third character, a former prison mate of Oshoosi’s, is key to the plot development, and is energized by Elliot Villar’s feline stealth, but seems underdeveloped and even superfluous in the writing. 


Still, Mark Russell is to be commended for discovering the play and producing it in his Under the Radar series, as are the Foundry Theatre and the Public Theater for bringing it to a larger audience, because, at its best, we are given what we often go to the theater to get: the opportunity to discover a unique playwright, which is precisely who Tarell Alvin McCraney is, and to be present at the emergence of an extraordinary young actor, which is precisely who Brian Tyree Henry is. It behooves us to keep watching out for what either of them do next.


harveyperr @


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