Tender tale of brothers
THE programme note to this touring New York Syracuse Stage production of The Brothers Size, writer Tarell Alvin McCraney's portrait of the relationship between two brothers, highlights one element of the dramatic context: "The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did in the height of apartheid."
CAPE TOWN & JOBURG
The Brothers Size
Where:Flipside @ The Baxter, until June 9; Market Theatre, June 15- July 1
It is partly in this milieu that the brothers Size, Oshoosi and Ogun, who have been left orphaned at a young age, have had to forge their way through life. Oshoosi Size (Rodrick Covington) is the younger brother of Ogun (Joshua Elijah Reese) and re-enters Ogun's life after having served two years in the "pen". Ogun (a powerful and triumphal god in Yoruba cosmology) is a hard-working mechanic who has looked after the feckless Oshoosi (representing the wanderer in Yoruba myth) since childhood.
He is determined to guide his younger brother - a schemer and dreamer more inclined to doing nothing than charting his own course - towards a more responsible and self-possessed life.
But on the periphery, temptation circles in the form of Elegba (Sam Encarnación), a former prison mate. Elegba, in Yoruba myth, is "the owner of doors in this world" and a "childlike messenger between two worlds".
The structure of McCraney's text, as well as the tight direction by Timothy Bond, enables a variety of narratives and subtexts to be explored with subtlety, often at the same time.
The episodic action takes place inside and outside a radiant, ritual circle of white sand that symbolises the inner and outer worlds of the characters.
This, as well as the narration of the stage directions by the actors, offers the story a remarkable range of textures from delicate to burly, from playful to profound.
McCraney's lyrical writing takes its time, although never without engaging the senses, eventually leading the audience to the shattered heart of the play.
Ultimately this is a delicate excavation of relationships between men and the emotional aspect of masculine life sadly too often rendered in cartoon-like, one-dimensional burlesque that fails to penetrate the carapace of machismo.
The tenderness of the script is balanced by the sheer physicality and muscularity of this trio of brilliant performers.
Bond uses song, dance - with beautiful choreography by Patdro Harris - acrobatics and fighting to tell the tale.
Covington as Oshoosi is every inch the playful, charismatic younger brother who has had it all too easy. He's cute, infuriating and loveable, all at the same time.
Reese as Ogun is solid, brooding and mature, while Encarnación embodies the lightness of spirit of the temptation trickster, a wicked gleam in his eye, charismatically offering Oshoosi the delights of the dark side.
The only superfluous detail in this production, one that is never used to its fullest, is part of the set - a "tower" or scaffold that serves more to hem in the drama than to set it free.
The piece would work just as well without it.
It is a treat to be offered the opportunity to engage with a contemporary American text performed by American actors and which finds such traction outside of its geographical setting.