Review: The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Juliette Carrillo. With Warner Miller, Yaegel T. Welch, and Eddie R. Brown III. Now through February 27 at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Have I mentioned before how much I hate standing ovations? Or, at least, enforced standing ovations…I don’t know if it’s just a passive, we’re so nice in Seattle thing, but EVERYTHING gets a standing ovation now. Doesn’t matter how banal or even crappy a show is, 75% of stage performances now earn a standing ovation from the audience. Don’t get me wrong; I BELIEVE in rewarding the cast and production of a show with an enthusiastic response from the audience as a sign of appreciation for a job brilliantly done. But, when nearly everything earns such a response, it makes the ovation meaningless and I refuse to do it, if I don’t feel moved to do so, even if I’m one of a half dozen brave souls in an audience who refuse to go along with it.
That being said, I now have a confession to make. I very happily and proudly gave Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of brilliant new playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size a very enthusiastic standing O last Wednesday night. It’s a major work from a promising young (and gay) theater talent and you should be hearing a lot in the future about Mr McCraney and his work. The Brothers Size is a majestic, beautifully realized piece of art centered around two African American brothers of very different temperments, and a man who comes between them. Using imagery and motifs from African Yoruba culture and myth, Mr McCraney has crafted a work that combines music, dance-movement, intense drama and some very sublime comedy to create a work of passion and conviction. The play is great art, but great plays can suffer from poor productions. This is not the case here…the Rep has created a superb production of this work with the assist of a brilliant director, cast and design team. I’ve reviewed about a 110 stage productions in the last year, and The Brothers Size immediately moved to the top of my “Best of the Best” list. It’s a must see event for anyone who loves important theater.
On the surface, The Brothers Size has a simple plot. Younger brother Oshoosi (Warner Miller) returns to the rural Louisiana home of his big brother Ogun, (Yaegel T. Welch) after a two year stint in prison. Not a hardened criminal, but a happy go lucky type who finds himself in unfortunate situations, Oshoosi yearns to experience the world. The more practical Ogun is both concerned and frustrated by his younger brother’s devil may care attitude but fiercely loves his brother and will do anything to protect him. The relationship between the brothers is complicated by the presence of Elegba, (Eddie R. Brown III) Oshoosi’s friend and fellow ex-con who seems to have a powerful and loving relationship with Oshoosi that may or may not be genuine. Utilizing dream sequences, music, and movement and the use of spoken aloud stage directions, the play weaves a tale that is both stylized and very theatrical in some sections of the play, and painfully honest and realistic in others. It is a masterfully written work by one of the most promising young playwright’s in the world, as he examines issues of race, gender and sexuality, as well as the over riding theme of brotherhood, and what it means to be a “brother” in all senses of the word.
There’s nothing to really fault with this production. The direction, by Juliette Carrillo, is assured, confident and unafraid to boldly stage scenes both realistic and magical. Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’ simple, platform set with its mound of old tires and a backdrop that consists of a constantly changing skyline is precise and clean in its sparse presentation when it needs to be, and fantastically opulent when the mood changes. The lights by Geoff Korf; the costumes by Constanza Romero; the sound by Matt Starritt and the music composed by Kathryn Bostic are all excellent designed and executed and complete the artistry of the production. It’s the ideal collaboration of theatrical artists.
All three actors give exemplary work and it’s impossible to single any one of them out. Mr Miller’s dreamy wanderer Oshoosi, Mr Welch’s pragmatic but wistful Ogun, and the sly, energetic performance of Mr Brown as Elegba are all fully realized and masterfully portrayed. There is never a moment in any of the performances, that feels false or arbitrary and each actor is fully in command of the character, the performance, their individual moments on stage and the connections made with the other actors within the fabric of the piece. None of these actors are local performers but I’m very happy they are visiting a Seattle stage and I hope they all have opportunities to return.
If you really love theater, you have to see this play and this production of it. After seeing it, you’ll be eagerly awaiting the future work of the playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney.