Los Angeles Theater Review: THE BROTHERS SIZE (Fountain Theatre)

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by Paul Birchall on June 10, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

AFRICAN MYTH ON THE BAYOU

An atmosphere of mythic mystery suffuses Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s compelling drama about family, sacrifice, and deceit.  Awash with undercurrents of melancholy and rage, here’s a drama that manages to wrestle both powerful themes and ferocious emotions, even within a remarkably intimate context.

It’s admittedly true that we find ourselves occasionally not absolutely sure how to evaluate the show:  Through director Shirley Jo Finney’s beautifully stylized staging, it is sometimes unclear whether we’re watching characters, symbolic representation of characters, or metaphors for emotions.  By the show’s end, though, it turns out that the answer is unimportant:  Sometimes ambiguity is just the way it is – we are Matthew Hancock and Theodore Perkinsnot expected to understand everything in the world, and that confusion should not weigh against our appreciation of McCraney’s excellent work.

In a backwater town somewhere in the Louisiana bayou, poor and embittered auto mechanic Ogun (a beautifully flinty Gilbert Glenn Brown) takes care of his cocky, undependable younger brother Ohshoosi (Matthew Hancock), who has only recently been released from prison.  Ogun wants to keep Oshoosi on the straight and narrow and get him working in a job – and, while Oshoosi certainly pays lip service to wanting to “grow up,” it’s clear that he’s too immature and inexperienced to take responsibility for his own life.  The two brothers squabble over Oshoosi’s childishness and over Ogun’s inability to understand what his younger brother has been through.

Into this already tense miasma comes Oshoosi’s former prison cell mate, Elegba (Theo Perkins), with whom the younger brother had a complicated relationship.  The sweet-seeming but obviously insincere Elegba seeks to insinuate his way back into Oshoosi’s life (and, really, it is clear that Legba himself was happier in prison, Matthew Hancock and Gilbert Glenn Brownwhere at least he knew the rules).  When Elegba offers Oshoosi an unexpected gift, the temptations risk his freedom, as well as the greater happiness of the family.

Director Finney enacts the goings on with urgency and vigor, and the cast delivers ferociously intense and organic acting work, joking like contemporary blue collar workers one moment, then morphing into avatars of emotion the next.  Brown’s gruff and surly Ogun, embittered by a life full of obstacles and troubles, is nicely contrasted by Hancock’s innocent, but self-destructive Oshoosi.  Perkins’ sometimes inscrutable, downright spooky Elegba is wonderful.

McCraney’s writing reduces situations to a skeletal essence – and the underlying emotions burst out with explosive shock and clatter.  In Finney’s febrile, often acrobatic staging, characters sometimes smack the sides of the aluminum siding-covered set with metal objects, creating a harrowing Stomp-like clatter – it Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, Theodore Perkinsinvariably shocks us and keeps us on edge.  The play also opens with an engrossing balletic sequence, in which Brown’s Ogun and Perkins’ Elegba clearly battle for the body and soul of Hancock’s Oshoosi, further setting an elemental and stylized tone.

Some of the answers to the play’s sometimes heightened reality can be found in African myth, in which these three “characters” (or, rather, characters with the same names) are frequent figures.  It is to McCraney’s credit that the play is affecting both as a work of folklore and as a gritty commentary on the role of African Americans in contemporary American society.

Gilbert Glenn Brown, Theodore Perkins, Matthew Hancockphotos by Ed Krieger

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

{ 1 comment }

Deborah Lawlor June 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

A perceptive review of our “The Brothers Size.”

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