McCraney’s startling trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays’, a poetic gumbo of African American tropes, susurrate idioms and Yoruba storytelling, makes a bid to seat McCraney in the chair left vacant when August Wilson died, as the pre-eminent playwright addressing African American life, as well as the gift that African American Idiom has given to American English.
“The Brothers Size”, the middle play of the Trilogy premiered simultaneously in New York at the Public Theatre, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement at an Affiliated Theatre.
The Yoruba pantheon of gods travelled to the Americas during the Middle Passage. Local nature spirits were joined into larger pantheons during slavery. In order to keep their religion alive, slaves from different tribes and countries, suddenly joined in slavery, built mixed pantheons of gods, absorbing Native American deities and hiding the original gods under Catholic Saints.
But all the major new World Religions; Cuba’s Santeria, Brazil’s Macumba and the purer Candomble, Haiti’s Petro and Rado Vodun, Lousiana’s Voodoo, have kept the stories of the Yoruba deities alive. Living in Miami, McCraney tapped into Little Havana’s Santeria sub culture.
Three men, who channel three eternal Yoruba spirits, live their lives in the fictional Bayou town of San Pere Louisiana.
legba, often seen as a playful boy, is the lord of the crossroads, a trickster god. The messenger between the human and the divine, he opens the way for the Orishas to appear.
Ogun is the god of iron, labor and war. He clears the path that Elegba opens.
Oshosi the hunter, shaman and scout of the Orishas, represents justice and abundance and survival. He’s both the patron of those who have a problem with the law, and the patron of animals, especially dogs.
The men (and the Gods who flicker through them) enter to percussive sound, hamboning, slapping their bodies. An opening ‘dance” tells the story soon to be spelled out in McCraney’s spellbinding words.
Older brother Ogun (Gilbert Glenn Brown), owner of Ogun’s Carshack, is a poor auto mechanic, hardened and bitter from years of caring for his younger ‘bad-boy” brother, the wandering Ochoosi (Matthew Hancock), whose just been released from jail.
Ochoosi’s on parole. Ogun give shim work and a place to stay out of trouble, but he’s unable to accept the responsibility Ogun lays on him, especially when slyly seductive Elegba (Theo Perkins), Oshoosi’s former prison cell mate, comes whistling at his window, playing scenes that allude to their prison “closeness”.
Ogun wakes his lazy brother up, ordering him to get his ass in the truck or he’ll tell Ochoosi’ parole officer. “Nah man, I’m turning this shit down, I don’t want your job” says sleepy Ochoosi, reluctantly getting with the program.
Ochoosi’s caught between two kinds of love, Ogun’s steely tough love, and the insinuating late night prison intimacy of sensual hands-on Elegba. Ochoosi struggles with buried memories of their midnight intimacies. “You and me make it so our harmony make a light,, the dark. I know you in that dark place” croons Elegba in Ochoosi’s dream. “Prison make grown men scared of the dark again” consoles Elegba. “Put back the Boogey monsters and the voodoo man we spend our whole life trying to forget.”
Elegba, who’s got a job at the funeral parlor, can’t stay away. He loves Ochoosi’s siren voice, with all the pain hanging out (perhaps because god Ochossi is the medium through which Obatalá, the father of the gods speaks.)
McCarey knows the difficulty of living “out” in the Black Community. His gay experience adds layers to Ochoosi and Elegba’s characters.
On the human, Lousiana level, these three men are all struggling with closeness. They each long for a father, a mother, some caring. Ogun was forced to become a father without having one. Ochoosi just plain refuses to grow up, and Elegba, unable to trust, manipulates, stealing ersatz intimacy.
In a scene where Ogun tries to give brotherly advice, he sinks into a speech about his lost love Oya, who betrayed him with Shango In the trilogy’s first play (“In The Red And Brown Water).
Ochoosi dreams of getting some pussy (Ameenah Kaplan gives him a joyous priapic dance)
and wheedles for a car a ride, so he can pick up chicks; but Ogun’s not about to give that wastrel a getaway short.
Trouble happens, a joy ride with Elegba out to his cousin Nia’s house in the Bayou, gets them searched, and Elegba’s got a bag of cocaine. Ochoosi couldn’t believe it. Ochossi escapes, and runs to Ogun for help. He tells his tale, “Come out of nowhere, lights and sirens… and the Law come up on us looking like he happy about something with that Gotcha face on.”
All Ogun can do is help him to move on before the Law catches up with him.
Theo Perkins, which his mobile expressive face, makes a wonderful boyish Trickster. Elegba runs all of Ogun’s optimistic plans off the road when he gives Ochoosi his first car (stolen at that) and tricks Ogun into fixing it up.
Gilbert Glenn Brown roots the play with his solid, layered presence, and compelling handsome Mathew Hancock (Ochoosi) seems destined for stardom.
McCraney’s text stays close to the spare logic of a folk tale. He’s more interested in the musicality of his language and the sine wave of emotional interplay than plot points. His language is seductive. His use of spoken stage directions creates a sly counterpoint and allows the story to drift upwards to another plane.
in one scene, Ogun speaks a line that’s pure stage directions “Laughin; somethingtomyselfcauseIdon’twantyoutohearcauseitsforme.” Wow, McCraney has guts.
Director Shirley Jo Finney direction captures both levels of McCraney’s conceit, driving the actors to powerful moments. Lighting designer Pablo Santiago carves his actors’s faces in expressive close-ups. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan uses a slowed down Hamboning to bring her characters on and off and to signal scene changes. Hana S. Kim’s abstract, minimalist set, Peter Bayne’s music and sound design, and Brenda Lee Eager alluring vocal arrangments are key to this seamless theatre work.\
Playwright, actor Tarell Alvin McCraney is a member of Teo Castellanos/ D Projects Theater Company in Miami and Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble. In 2008. McCraney was the RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Brothers Size
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on July 27, 2014
EXTENDED to September 14, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 663-1525
or visit www.FountainTheatre.com