Friday, June 20, 2014

Theater the Way It Should Be: “The Brothers Size” at the Fountain Theatre by M.R. Hunter

Following last year's widely acclaimed "In the Red and Brown Water," the second installment of Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Brother/Sister Plays" trilogy at the Fountain is impactful and stunning. One does not need to have seen the first play as each is a standalone piece relating to the themes of African Yoruba mythology, interpersonal relations, struggle, locale and McCraney's signature style of vocalizing the stage directions as a reminder that THIS is a theatrical art form.

And it is definitively theater—not pseudo-theater plaguing many underwritten, uninspired or creatively hesitant new plays as of late. McCraney's stories work on the stage because he writes FOR the stage instead of the other way around. From the melodic dialogue with its poetic underpinnings, mythological symbolism, multilayered characters filled with pathos, hubris and complexity, "The Brothers Size" is one of those rare gems of contemporary playwrighting that gives hope to the future of the craft. Being able to tell a story is a privilege most people enjoy. The art of storytelling however is a very exclusive ability and when it unfolds in such a way to leave one breathless and clamoring for more, then a certain respect must be paid to its talent.

McCraney infuses his work with folklore from Yoruba, located in southwestern Nigeria which made its way to the southern states of the U.S. This play is set in the rural Louisiana bayou in elder brother Ogun Henri Size's home and his auto shop. Younger brother, Oshoosi has just come home after being paroled from jail, struggling to adapt to his newfound freedom. Elegba, Oshoosi's friend infiltrates the tenuous relationship with his own secret agendas only Ogun can sense as he watches his brother fall into a seduction of good vs. evil, inevitably setting him free.

The immensity and intensity of the trio of men is as psychologically rich and relatable as Shakespeare's characters and just as rewarding. While some playwrights imply a tactic of throwing the audience with suspense and surprises, McCraney allows us to see the natural trajectory of love, loyalty and regret play out without artifice or self-consciousness. The storyline makes perfect sense without feeling too plotted or overburdened juxtaposed against the way the characters announce their entrances and exits, their smiles and reactions noted in stage directions. The total effect is of being transported and if I have any criticism, it is that McCraney could have easily written more than his lean 90 minutes, no intermission which flies by unnoticed. He lets the audience wanting for one more scene, one more of moment this exotic, aural journey. When the lights go down, the realization it's over is almost soul-draining—it can't be—and then it is and we are left to wait for the last play in this trilogy. It's well worth the wait.

Shirley Jo Finney is in her element as she directs with a masterful sensitivity and adds to the rising crescendo of McCraney's drama without overstepping her role. Everything is exquisitely revealed and supported by her graceful way of helming the text and allowing it to bloom. Most directors are only as good as the material, and McCraney and Finney are a dynamic duo here.

As to the cast? Gilbert Glenn Brown as Ogun, Matthew Hancock as Oshoosi and Theo Perkins as Elegba are each resoundingly amazing and equally present in their roles to such a high degree of excellence and nuance it is difficult at times to say whose story this really is. Is it Ogun, the elder trying to protect his little brother? Perhaps, although at first blush, no, yet his journey has a fascinating arc revealed in a shockingly long 10 minute monologue (another risk McCraney employs in his writing few playwrights/actors can pull off) of being a protector and provider riddled by filial guilt and paternal angst. Brown's performance throughout but particularly in this monologue is one of the best examples of acting from a place of truth. Is the story Elegba's? Categorically no, but he is like the snake, slithering with beauty and deception to force a choice made from a place of innocence on Oshoosi's part and not ill intent. Perkins captures the humor, the sexuality/sensuality and the encroaching darkness so well, it is difficult to dislike his malevolent spirit outright. His handsome, sinfully lithe movements captivate but he punctuates his performance with a sense of foreboding every time he swaggers to the stage.

The story is Oshoosi's ultimately at the center of his own mythology playing out between forces he cannot hope to overcome let alone fully understand. Hancock is perfectly cast and his youthful vigor gives a puppy-like quality to the young, lost man. As an actor, set against two strong men, Hancock brings a nubile, almost cherubic enthusiasm and adolescent yearning. In this, Oshoosi is defined by the mercurial shifts of joy to fear which Hancock channels effortlessly. It is enough to say one should see this to hear him sing a cappella with vigor and style, but his overall performance is the stuff theatergoers talk about long after the run is over.

Go see "The Brothers Size." It is as simple as that. I wish I had the ability like my betters to speak more eloquently on the virtues of this play. I don't think there's a critic worth their salt in this town who hasn't highly recommended it. Trust me. I wouldn't lead you astray. It's probably the best theater I've seen this year so far. You deserve it. Everyone does. This is a perfect example of what theater can do, invoke and inspire when everything is so well-done and well….brilliant. There won't be an extended run so run out to see "The Brothers Size" now!

"The Brothers Size"
Runs through July 27 (locked date to close!)
Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 2 p.m.
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
Tickets: $34; students w/ ID is $25
PH: 323-663-1525

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