In describing his play “The Brothers Size”, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney affirms, “Ritual is not new…. The ritual onstage is taking these very old stories, archetypes, myths, and even rumors…. Hoping to create evenings that make something powerful, something distant yet present something…else.” And that’s what we’re given at the Fountain Theatre, a production that is something else: powerful and poetic, strange and familiar, a story that is not of our people, yet a story that speaks to us all.
“The Brothers Size” is the second play of McCraney’s “Brother/Sister Plays”, a trilogy concerning three generations of the same family set in the fictional Louisiana Bayou town of San Pere. McCraney draws heavily on the mythos and traditions of the Yoruba, one of West Africa’s largest ethnic groups. Music and dance pervade the work, and coming from the same heritage which has given the world the singer-songwriters Sade and Seal, this is perhaps to be expected.
The story of the piece centers on two brothers: the older, hardworking Ogun (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and the younger Oshoosi (Matthew Hancock) as they try to reestablish the brotherly bond between them after Oshoosi’s return from prison. Both brothers are changed by the experience, their trouble is now in remembering who they were and recognizing what they have become. Always slithering at the edge of their world, like the serpent in the garden, is Elegba (Theo Perkins) Oshoosi’s former prison cellmate where he was both the young brother’s protector and abuser.
It is a simple tale, one as old as Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Odin, Vili and Ve. There are emotions which find expression best in dance, there are words which have meaning only in poetry, this was the font of all classical theatre and this is where “The Brothers Size” draws from for its source.
The character’s names are plucked from the religion of the Yoruba. Ogun is the god who presides over iron and truth. He is the patron of smiths, so it is fitting he is the owner of a mechanic’s repair shop. Oshoosi is a solitary figure, the hunter, the seeker, who also imbues the role of shaman, and it is Oshoosi in the play that is possessed by visions. In the slave cultures of Latin America, Oshoosi was refitted by Catholic worshipers and identified with Saint Sebastian. Often shown tied and shot with arrows, the association then was as to Oshoosi the hunter. The association today is one more sexual in nature. Finally there is Elegba, the deity of roads with the sway of fortune and misfortune over those that travel them. He is a spirit who leads mortals towards temptation, but can serve as both trickster and teacher.
If playwright McCraney has provided his play with a sweeping and mythic landscape, director Shirley Jo Finney and her cast have filled it magnificently. I cannot imagine a more exquisite fusion of the theatrical and the mythic which this work demands than is currently on the Fountain Stage.
From the opening moment when the three actors seem to materialize on stage, director Finney and her cast capture us in the sanctity of the play’s setting.
Hancock as the younger brother is a changed man after prison, which “makes a grown man afraid of the dark.” Hancock draws you into his private pain for the seeming loss of his judgmental brother and the shame of his secret sins with intensity that stings. As Elegba, Perkins is the epitome of the seducer as he weaves himself between the two brothers. But towering above the stage is Brown. To Perkins’ serpentine Elegba, Brown’s Ogun is Lord of the Garden; to the Abel of Hancock’s Oshoosi, Brown’s Ogun affords the Cain. And in the final analysis, the play is Ogun’s crucible, and Brown’s presence is a constant woven perfectly into each moment.
If I could I would stand in front of the Fountain day and night shouting to all that passed, “Here is the power of theatre, here is the magic of the stage!” However, it would only annoy the Fountain’s neighbors, and, after all, this is L.A.; nobody pays attention to a wild man’s ranting.
But trust me, gentle readers; this is one not to be missed.
The Brothers Size
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: July 10, 17, 24, 31 ONLY
Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 11, 18, 25; Aug. 1, 15, 22; Sept. 5, 12 (dark Aug. 8, Aug. 29)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 12, 19, 26; Aug. 2, 16, 23; Sept. 6, 13 (dark Aug. 9, Aug. 30)
Sundays at 2 p.m.; July 13, 20, 27; Aug. 3, 17, 24; Sept. 7, 14 (dark Aug. 10, Aug. 31)
Reserved seating: $34
Students with ID (Thursdays and Fridays only): $25
Secure, on-site parking: $5