‘The Brothers Size’ is a powerfully written drama

by David Dixon

02_13_12_TheBrosSize_cred_HenryDiRoccoAvid fans of current dramatists have probably heard of Tarell Alvin McCraney. Many critics claim he’s one of the most talented playwrights in recent memory. Before going to see The Old Globe’s production of “The Brothers Size,” I was wondering if the show would live up to all the hype surrounding it. To put it mildly, the drama is the real deal.

Ogun Henri Size (Joshua Elijah Reese) and Oshoosi Size (Okieriete Onaodowan) are two African-American brothers living together in San Pere, La. Ogun is a stern, hardworking individual who works as a car mechanic. Oshoosi has recently been released from jail and is a likeable slacker with a crude sense of humor.

Their relationship is tested when Elegba (Antwayn Hopper), Oshoosi’s former cellmate, reunites with him. For fear of ruining the experience, very little information about what happens after will be revealed.

McCraney’s prose takes a few minutes to adjust to. The actors frequently read aloud stage directions, which ultimately creates a hypnotic mood that grows more dreamlike with Jonathan Melville Pratt’s mesmerizing percussions and Gina Scherr’s lighting design. It’s incredible how effective this becomes as the story goes on.

Don’t mistake McCraney’s stylistic language as an excuse not to include an emotional core. There are many moments of authentic conversations as the brothers’ bond changes throughout the course of the evening, especially in the final 30 minutes.

The climax is so bittersweet, I had to wipe some tears from my eyes. I wasn’t alone, as other audience members sniffed during the heartbreaking final twist.

The three actors each give distinct personalities to their fully realized characters. Reese, who originated the role of Ogun for the West Coast premiere, abruptly replaced Gilbert Owuor not long before the first performance in San Diego. He poignantly changes from a tough brother to a vulnerable man.

Onaodowan shines as the lazy Oshoosi. The actor can be very funny when talking like an immature goofball, but is just as effective during his dramatic scenes.

Someone came up with the weird idea that Hopper shouldn’t wear a shirt whenever he is on stage. This could have lead to cringe-inducing moments, similar to seeing Taylor Lautner in the “Twilight” series, but instead serves as a metaphor for Elegba’s power over the people around him.

Hopper handles McCraney’s dialogue with cool confidence. His delivery is similar to Samuel L. Jackson in a Quentin Tarantino movie, full of authority and conviction.

An interesting aspect that all the characters have in common is that they have at least one major monologue in “The Brothers Size.” Hopper, Onaodowan and Reese handle the speeches very well and reveal raw pathos.

Director Tea Alagic has beautifully directed a fresh and immensely entertaining American story. “The Brothers Size” is part of a loose trilogy written by McCraney that is referred to as “The Brother/Sister Plays.” It would be wonderful if the Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre could stage the other two theatrical events some time in the future.

Tickets and information about “The Brothers Size” can be found at theoldglobe.org