San Diego Theater Review: THE BROTHERS SIZE (Old Globe)

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by Tony Frankel on February 10, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Of the three plays which constitute Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brother/Sister Plays,” The Brothers Size, now playing at The Old Globe, is the most intimate and Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San Diegoconfined, much like a chamber piece. The first play of the triptych, In the Red and Brown Water, is an epic tale about the flowering of a young woman named Oya; the third, Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet, explores the budding sexuality of a teenager in the fictional projects of San Pere. The Brothers Size concentrates on the relationship of the titular siblings, Ogun and Oshoosi. While I prefer the sweeping storytelling of the other two plays, The Brothers Size still manages to contain sizzling scenes that depict the love and torment inherent in a sibling relationship. This production is led by inventive director, Tea Alagić, who elicits bravura performances from her three lead actors. The play contains visceral and explosive scenes of poetic majesty, but the proceedings are decidedly mixed, alternatively rousing and somnolent.

Ogun, a mechanic, takes in his fresh-out-of-prison younger brother Oshoosi and gives him a job at his auto repair shop. However, Oshoosi’s former cellmate, Elegba (also newly sprung from prison), tempts Oshoosi to continue his wayward behavior that got him into trouble in the first place. Oshoosi is torn between the allure of the Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San Diegotrickster Elegba and the purer motives of his brother. Ogun is torn between saving his brother and letting him find his own way. The tug-of-war between the three takes on mythological aspects, including destiny, ego and temptation, but director Alagić stresses rhythm over storytelling: The unfaltering percussionist, Jonathan Melville Pratt, begins with a stimulating preshow display on Cuban-Caribbean instruments, and accompanies throughout the 90-minute one act; this device, however appealing, is meant to highlight emotional beats but keeps the proceedings jazzy and cerebral. It also doesn’t help that certain speeches feel either oratorical or rhetorical. Unfortunately, we never get that much-needed emotional connection into the world of The Brothers Size (as in his other plays, McCraney has actors speaking stage directions as another way of bringing us into the story, which I still find successful).

Still, the exceptional ensemble of distinctive actors commands the stage: Joshua Elijah Reese turns in a magnetic performance as the fierce yet loving brother, Ogun, who wants desperately to be responsible for his brother but cannot control the ex-con’s slide back into reprobate behavior. Reese’s fierce loyalty is palpable; the anger Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San Diegothat keeps getting the best of him rings true; less convincing is the tenderness he has for his sibling.

Okieriete Onaodowan’s performance as the sweet-smiling conflicted troublemaker Oshoosi is deftly layered with shades of sorrow and melancholy; what is missing is a heightened sense of desperation. Antwayn Hopper is beguiling as the slinky, smooth operator Elegba; his physicality and singing are especially terrific. The issue is that Elegba is no longer the sweet, wayward teen in In the Red and Brown Water, but a devilish tempter; since the well-built Hopper is consistently shirtless, are we to believe that the bisexual Elegba is romantically interested in Oshoosi? And is Oshoosi doubting his own sexuality? The actors’ motivations lack specificity; as such, our experience is ultimately as murky as the brown Louisiana bayou water surrounding San Pere.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San DiegoPeter Ksander’s simple, sparse scenic design on the in-the-round stage consists of cluttered stones arranged in a two-foot circle center stage, rimmed by a ring of sand. This symbolic device center stage never alters and becomes a bit one-note, but Gina Scherr’s lighting design provides the appropriate accents to the story’s shifts from reality to dreamscapes.

Certain scenes – the bonding of the brothers as they listen to Percy Sledge’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and the impersonation of an “Uncle Tom” Sherriff, for instance – are alternatingly touching, vibrant, and humorous. A discerning ear will no doubt hear McCraney’s original voice, the one which has him proclaimed as his generation’s greatest playwright. Both McCraney’s language and the actors’ talents are showcased, but this production does not resonate.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San Diego

photos by Henry DiRocco

The Brothers Size
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
The Old Globe in Balboa Park, San Diego
scheduled to end on February 24, 2013
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or visit

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of THE BROTHERS SIZE_Old Globe_San Diego

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