Premiered in 2007 at the Public Theater in NYC, acclaimed by critics from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, The Brothers Size is a hypnotic, timeless, poetic play about brotherhood, love and differences. Now on stage at the Baxter Theatre, it’s not to be missed.
Drums beating, subdued lighting, athletic bodies wrapped in sweat and strength, the play starts in a trance, mesmerising. A circle of white sand is drawn on the floor, entrapping the characters in their destiny, while voices sing their hope for freedom.
Set in the bayou of Louisiana, somewhere on the African land or lost in the characters’ hearts and dreams, here starts the epic ride with Ogun, Oshoosi and Elegba.
Written by award-winning young author Tarell Alvin McCraney and part of the trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, The Brothers Size tells the story of two orphaned brothers. Ogun, the elder, is a hard-working man, dedicated to his car-repair shop, carrying on his shoulders the burden of his brother’s playful but aimless soul. Oshoosi, just out of prison on parole, is a happy-go-unlucky type, only interested in chasing women and enjoying life.
And in between the two of them comes Elegba, “the one creating chaos, the one presenting conflict in the play”, says director Timothy Bond of Oshoosi’s friend from prison, the voice of temptation. Bound by blood and destiny, the brothers are at a crossroad, choices made will design tomorrow’s future. “You fucked up,” pounds Ogun in Oshoosi’s ears, “you fucked up.”
Rooted in the West African Yoruba mythical cosmology, the play digs into the universal themes of family rights, responsibilities and fate. Bond says: “You will sense the Yoruba traditions, although you don’t need to know about them, the same way that you will sense the gods in a Greek tragedy. You have to look in your heart to find out your own destiny, to find your own answers… People can step outside of themselves and see the humanity in other people, what is their background, their race, tribe, language…(Then) humanity can rise to another level of compassion.’
The play is a ballet of contrasts: the poetry of the writing is punctuated with offensive and taboo words, the primal sound of the drums opposed to the popular Try a Little Tenderness, the unbearable lightness of being opposed to the hardship of earning respectability. There is also an irresistible energy, a sense of survival at all costs that runs through the play and the bodies on stage. The choreography, by Patdro Harris, is sharp, powerful.
Joshua Elijah Reese (Ogun) and Sam Encarnación (Elegba) seem anchored in their roles, one responsible, one irreverent. Yet, when the music strikes, they suddenly look free from their selves. At times, Rodrick Covington’s interpretation of Oshoosi is deliciously excessive, reminiscent of Eddie Murphy, his exaggerated facial expressions bringing lightness to a rather tensed atmosphere.
Bond explains that he wanted to bring the play to South Africa because “there is something very healing in this play, for these brothers. There is something very healing for African- Americans, for anyone, when they see the play. I feel that South Africa is in a midst of a very strong healing process. Bringing the play (here) felt like the right place in the world, (because of) the African themes about brother and love, being at a crossroad and making decisions about destiny.”
He adds: “I think theatre is one of the greatest vehicles to bring people together. One of my missions, as an artist, has always been about interconnections and finding the common ground people are on, not just pointing out differences. There are many people in the US who wouldn’t have shown any interest in the play. (The characters) are poor: two guys, one has just left prison, the other guy is a mechanic, they live in a very small area in Louisiana… Who cares? But when you meet them, when you see them, you see the connection with your own family, your own story.’
Indeed, The Brothers Size sings a universal song. It sings the irreversibility of one’s choices, the responsibility one man feels for his younger brother, the shared laughter at remembering the good old times, the hands held together regardless of differences, the unbeatable love, no matter what. DM
The Brothers Size is at the Baxter Theatre Flipside until the 9th of June – Tickets from R90 (Mondays) and R130 and R150
At the Market Theatre: 14 June – 1 July