“The Brothers Size” play hits the Old Globe Theatre with modern and classic elements

By Khea Pollard

“The Brothers Size” is theatre in the round at its best. The play could possibly be one of the most artistic shows that have graced the Old Globe stage. Tarell Alvin McCraney transforms West African mythology into a modern day tale of two brothers living in the Louisiana bayou. Simplistic in concept but huge in delivery, this show emphasized the indispensability of superb actors and a creative design team. The play put together a peculiar design set where the audience was given leeway to imagine the settings as they apparently change between scenes. In the center of the stage was a circle of sand surrounded by rocks. For a scene that occurred in the car shop, the audience had to imagine that they changed the set and the details of the car. Along with the spare use of props and touting a cast of three actors and a drummer, this show is a well-written masterpiece.

Ogun Size is a law-abiding, hardworking owner of a repair shop. His younger brother Oshoosi has just been released from prison and is living with him. Ogun frequently implores his brother to get a job but the free-spirited Oshoosi is not so enthusiastic about work and prefers to spend his spare time freely chasing women. Another ex-convict and friend of Oshoosi’s, Elegba, steps into the picture and challenges the familial bond between the brothers and Oshoosi is left to decide whose guidance he should accept.

Attention to detail in every aspect of the show was evident, particularly in the lighting design. Many of the scenes depended solely on the lighting and the actors’ narration to set the mood for there were no formal props or set. In the beginning, the audience watched the three characters open by creating the set – a circle made of sand with pre-set rocks at the center – while singing a kind of work chant, “This road is rough”. The actors frequently called out their stage direction subscript, which was an interesting flair, sometimes comical even. In case you could not tell Ogun was repairing a vehicle, he made sure to announce to the audience this fact.

Through subtle lighting cues Gina Scherr (lighting design) incorporated the colors of the West African culture’s Orishas. This was subtly introduced through the brothers’ dream scenes where blue light cast over the small stage in Oshoosi’s dream and green light shown throughout his brother Ogun’s dream.

Similarly, the music was a crucial component in the larger work of art. Intense drum beats made the emotions of each character increasingly tangible for the audience. It was amazing how the mood of the scenes could be quickly shifted by provocative drumbeats and cool tones imitating the balafon, a West African instrument. The polyrhythm of the drums accented the voices and movements of the actors while showcasing their musicality and athleticism. One scene required the actors to sing and circle the stage while tossing buckets from one person to the next. The actors did so with such precision and ease that it appeared natural.

The actors played their characters with such honesty. When Ogun (Joshua Elijah Reese) reminisced about childhood memories with his brother, it provided an intimate look into the Size’s family portrait.
Specifically, a tear-jerker is when the brothers Ogun and Oshoosi sing along to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” Witnessing a bond like this depicted so beautifully is moving to say the least.
“The Brothers Size” is not a lengthy production, an hour and a half in duration, but it succinctly highlights the unbreakable bond between brothers. Even if you don’t have a brother, in the words of Elegba, “[Oshoosi] cried and made us miss our brothers, even the ones we ain’t never had.” My sentiments exactly.

“The Brothers Size” runs until Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe.