Friday, September 30, 2016

"The Brothers Size"

The Brothers Size
Tarell Alvin McCraney

Julian Green, Gabriel Christian & LaKeidrick S. Wimberly
With a tribal air of a long-ago continent or of fields in the another century’s cotton-filled South, three young, black men dance in a trance-like state and sing with moaning tone and hum, “The road is rough ... hmmm, haaaah ... Lord God, it’s rough and hard.” 

And so begins in an imaginary dream state Tarell Alvin McCraney’s intense, moving The Brothers Size, a play about the relationships of two sets of brothers -- one defined by blood and one by unspoken love.  Theatre Rhinoceros revives for San Francisco this play first introduced in 2010 at the Magic Theatre as the second part of a Bay Area shared production of the playwright’s The Brother/Sister Trilogy.  Its haunting mixture of music and movement combines with scenes of high emotional exploration of the boundaries to which love can be pushed and still survive.  With a cast of three, highly talented actors who stretch their own limits of expression, verbally and non-verbally, Theatre Rhinoceros presents The Brothers Size.

LaKeidrick S. Wimberly & Gabriel Christan
The plot of the 100-minute-long The Brothers Size is quite straightforward and somewhat predictable in its basic storyline.  A prodigal son -- in this case brother -- returns home to his hard-working brother after a stint in the state penitentiary.  The garage-owing, older brother is very worried that the younger, fun-loving sibling will once again get into trouble and is thus perhaps overly protective and harsh with him.  Especially troublesome for the older Size is the new, best bro that the younger Size brother met and shared space with in the pen – a jiving guy who seems to have too much sway and influence on the emotions, plans, and desires of his still unemployed brother.  The relationships among the three bump along a hard and swerving road with acute moments of dreamed and real-life contact and confrontation, intimacy and struggle that play out among the various twosomes.  On a dark, country road after a night of movies, clubbing, and joy-riding, a relationship built on un-vocalized, not-totally-understood love comes to a climax just as a cop’s blinking light pulls up along side.  Betrayal, sacrifice, and tough love decisions follow in a sequence of heart-breaking scenes as the truth and nature is revealed of the relationships thus far explored.

The names of the three actors draw on the traditions and deities of the West African Yoruban tribes.  The older Size brother and brawny auto-mechanic is Ogun, the name of the Yoruban god of iron and known as a warrior who oversees deals and contracts.  LaKeidrick S. Wimberly is a giant of a muscled man, reserved and nonchalant when absorbed in his work but massively angry and explosive when overtaken by his exasperation and worry with his brother.  In one such moment late in the play, he rises over his smaller, younger brother with big hands outstretched in vexation as he preaches at the cowering brother his rants, his warnings, and his deep-rooted concerns in rhythmic waves as if from a pulpit.  But after such moments, he also tends to soften, reveal a slight smile and caring eyes, and open up to reveal a heart full of forgiveness and love.

Gabreil Christian is Oshoosi Size, named by the playwright for a divine, cunning hunter associated with the human struggle for survival.  His Oshoosi brings a smile draped in big dimples to many of his interactions, ribbings, pleas, and dreaming.  He flops on the bed to hide from possible employment, jumps high in the air with an idea for fun, and hugs with boylike admiration his startled brother.  But when he hurts or is hurt, his Oshoosi suddenly shows another sullen, sad side of not-so-happy-go-lucky.  And put in close proximity to the friend met in prison, a deep well of emotions and desires often emerge that seem to trouble as well as mysteriously arouse him.

LaKeidrick S. Wimberly, Gabriel Christian & Julian Green
That friend is Elegba, a Puck-like character who seems suddenly to appear from nowhere to tempt Oshoosi, to irritate Ogun, and to fill the scene with his energy and excitement for a life with few restraints.  Named by the playwright for the guardian of life’s crossroads but a god also known for his trickery and chaos, Elegba fully lives up to his African name as he opens up avenues for Oshoosi’s wavering from the straight and narrow path that Ogun desires him to tread.  The gift of a car or the lingering touch of their passing, bare-chested bodies each brings Oshoosi another big step away from Ogun’s control and influence.  Julian Green glides and slithers with both zeal and stealth in and out of the life of Oshoosi, bringing a passion for his friend that seems genuine ... until it does not.

Powerful in this production is the use of dance and movement as choreographed by Laura Elaine Ellis (with additional choreography by Daryl V. Jones).  Various inserted sequences recall a proud and noble history of native Africa, a rich history of hip hop and jazz, and a shameful history of injustice to the black man in slave fields and prison chain gangs.

So much works in the portrayals these three actors of their characters, but unfortunately there are several flaws of the production that diminish some of the final power of performance.  Margaret Adair MacCormack’s set combined with Wesley Rou’s lighting is big in scope with its large sky backdrop; its tall, skeletal, partial doorway that has the hint of a gallows, and its scattered metal, tire, and trappings of a garage.  That set and the changing lighting scheme at times distracts from the powerful dialogue occurring within it, making me wish for something much more barren and simple. 

Distracting too is in the way Darryl V. Jones directs the delivery of the playwright’s parenthetical script notes that the actors emote -- the kind of lines that one reads in a story announcing a quote, a mood, or a movement.  These too often interrupt the mood of the moment in the way they are delivered with too much emphasis and/or humor. 

Finally, this is a play where music plays a big part of the message delivery; and Oshoosi himself is touted as a gifted singer.  Unfortunately, the sung portions of this production often do not match in quality the rest of the actors’ excellent performances.

But when it comes to the story’s climax and its preceding threads of relationship exploration and boundary testing by these three men, Theatre Rhinoceros in the end has delivered a moving, thought-provoking rendition of The Brothers Size.  Especially for anyone who has missed earlier Bay Area productions, The Rhino’s interpretation is one that is well-worth a visit to the Eureka Theatre.

Rating: 3 E

The Brothers Size runs through October 15, 2016 at at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

Photos by Stephen Ho

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