THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Brothers Size’ brings searing story to stage

“The Brothers Size” / The Ancram Opera House

IT’S A PLAY not a musical, but at one point, Oshoosi, the younger of the Size brothers, sings. He sings an old ballad called “Try a Little Tenderness.” (Oshoosi adds his own Baroque embellishments in the mode that black jazz and pop singers have made their own.)

It is a rare moment in “The Brothers Size,” a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. At that moment, the character is joyous, free and persuasive, though much of his young life has been none of the above.

Oshoosi has recently come home from prison. At the Ancram Opera House, home has crooked wood slats and a crooked thrusting stage adorned with unidentifiable metal objects and two metal guardians of the homestead—who look surprised to be there. The set is a marriage of African folk art and American car repair.

The cast of ‘The Brothers Size’ seen here (l to r) Geovonday Jones, Jovan “Kofi” Davis, Brian Demars Jones, bring to life the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney at the Ancram Opera House through August 25. Photo by B. Docktor

The car-repair business belongs to Oshoosi’s older brother, Ogun. Ogun is forever angry with Oshoosi for lying around, not getting a job, and for longing for the unattainable—a ride in a car, a woman, a trip to Madagascar. Ogun yells a lot, except when he is affectionately knocking his brother’s arm aside or passionately protecting the younger man’s freedom.

There is a third person in the story. He is a prison “friend” of Oshoosi’s, a leggy, handsome, Jungian shadow called Elegba. Elegba is played with charm and menace by Brian Demar Jones. In prison Elegba has sexually seduced Oshoosi with an almost motherly warmth. In Jones’ hands, the warmth and the menace are skillfully maneuvered.

As Oshoosi, Jovan “Kofi” Davis is spectacular. It is a role that invites “spectacular,” and Davis responds with what looks like ease. During the performance he and the character are utterly one.

As older brother Ogun, Geovonday Jones is less at ease in his body than his fellow actors, but he gets it done and delivers a strong, emotional closing scene.

Though these men have African names and they sometimes wax mythic, they are all intensely American. Messages from the beautiful set design and from the incidental music, offer emphatic reminders that they are connected to human beings brought to America as slaves. Some of the emphasis may be overkill.

The actors sometimes move from characterization to narration and quickly back again. You might not expect that to work seamlessly, but it does. Occasionally they make direct contact with members of the audience, handing someone a coke can or a hunk of bread. That device feels more like play-trendiness than this play’s necessity; but perhaps something is communicated. I’m not sure what.

The play flings out barrages of once forbidden words (“ass,” “shit,” “fuck”), a habit that today is not as popular in playwriting as it was some decades ago. For the brothers, locked in cultural prison, those words may once have felt tranquilizing. Perhaps the words were small valves for draining rage that only later began to drip, drip, drip with repetition.

“The Brothers Size” has a primordial intimacy that elderly audiences may have forgotten and young ones may not yet have experienced. Ogun errs and fumbles with it. His efforts to be his brother’s keeper fail, but his intent is pure. He loves.

“Try a little tenderness” the play suggests. (Isn’t that somewhere a commandment?)

“The Brothers Size” runs through August 25 at Ancram Opera House, 1330, County Route 7, Ancram, 518-329-0114, ancramoperahouse.org

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