Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, directed by Derek Goldman and now playing at Everyman Theatre, is an extremely intense production that takes you deep into the Louisiana south in the distant present, sharing the story of two brothers and the trials and tribulations of their lives. The play is defined by its distinctive approach to narration wherein the characters often narrate their actions, speaking in third person to introduce themselves to a scene or express their actions as they act them out upon the stage. This play in particular contains constant strong violent language and should be noted before viewing, but should not in any way be considered a detracting point from the phenomenal depth these actors achieve with their character development throughout the production.
We are given a very basic setting in the round from Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger. The thing that keeps the motion of this play going is the combination of sounds and lights coming from Sound Designer Chas Marsh and Lighting Designer Harold Burgess respectively. There are several dream sequences where the characters are moving in and out of dreams rather quickly and the striking changes in the lighting help to really distinguish this for the audience, as the actors maintain the same heightened level of emotions during their dreams and nightmares as they do when they are awake. Perhaps the most visually stunning moment comes during a simple nostalgic memory. Ogun Size (Yaegel T. Welch) is describing the last memory of his mother at the water’s edge. And he says little else but Burgess bathes the stage in a subdued blue as Marsh slowly cues a lapping water soundtrack that gradually gets louder until the audience feels they are standing there with Ogun as a child.
The acting is in a word – stunning! These three actors take on challenging characters with heavy dialects and subtle accents; they tackle difficult emotional challenges that can prove to be very draining but they never lose momentum nor do they falter in their delivery of emotional peaks. There is constant tension from the moment the play starts and it is continually building straight to the end of the show. The show is not fast, but its pacing allows time to fly by without realizing that there is no intermission. Director Derek Goldman’s work of strained relationships and emotional turmoil really shines through in these three performers.
From the moment you encounter Ogun (Yaegel T. Welch) and his brother Oshoosi (Chinaza Uche) their biting bickering brotherhood relationship is more than apparent. They are constantly at each other’s throats, screaming in each other’s faces and tearing each other down with their words. The show’s unique approach to having the characters essentially narrate their actions is well mastered by all three actors, but the most entertaining execution of this concept is displayed by Welch. He uses over exaggerated facial expressions to help illustrate his narrations; one in particular being the scene in his car shop. Welch starts out saying “Ogun goes under the car,” he then slides under the car. Something happens and he says from under the table (that serves as the car) “Ogun comes out from under the car,” and he slides out from under it. And then he says “Ogun goes back under the car.” This continues on for several minutes, each vocalization of going under and out from the car growing more exasperated as he shouts it and wrenches his body to and from under the table.
Welch communicates with his when his voice must rest – often during long speeches given by Elegba (Powell Lawrence) and Oshoosi (Chinaza Uche). You can see the sorrow that weighs heavy in his chest by his drooping face and solemn eyes. He screams louder than the rest, using these vocal climaxes to further enhance his expressions, but backs off to a harrowing whisper when telling the mournful tale of his lost love to his brother. He hits emotional peaks when he tears down his brother and every moment of anger, frustration, anguish, and so many other feelings come bursting out of him like pressurized water shooting through a ruptured dam; a breath-taking heart-felt performance that captures the attention of the entire audience.
Elegba (Powell Lawrence) is the unctuous character that just doesn’t sit right. Something about him is off – in the shady sleazy sort of way. Lawrence commands this character with sweet innocent eyes and a voice like a choir boy. But when he slinks around in the darkness of Oshoosi’s dreams he’s like a viper waiting in the grass to slink up and snap an unsuspecting victim. When Lawrence confronts Welch’s character about his brother the tension is clear. And when he begins to translate the desperation that Oshoosi (Uche) felt for his brother from in prison, his vocalizations of these simple words are so thoroughly filled with deep heart-wrenching emotion that you stop hearing the words and start hearing Oshoosi’s agonizing cries.
Oshoosi (Chinaza Uche) uses his body as a vibrant tool of expression throughout the production. Uche stands reliving his nightmares of prison so vividly in such hushed and terrified tones that you can feel his fear of the darkness and all of the uncertainty that comes with that fear begins to swim around the room almost suffocating everyone in it until he wakes with a startling jolt. His interactions with his brother are always played with high stakes; everything becomes a life or death matter presented in terms of ‘being free’ or ‘being imprisoned.’ He shouts at the top of his lungs to express how desperate he is to truly remain free. And when he sings your heart melts at the soft sweet sound of his voice; such a drastic contrast to the angry shouting voice Uche uses throughout most of the production. When he confesses to Ogun (Welch) everything that happened the night he got into trouble with Elegba (Lawrence) he is trapped in a memory; such nostalgia echoing of the last few words of his recollection that the audience gets lost with him.
Three extremely talented actors bring the thick hazy fog that often settles over life in the mystic bayou to a shining clear story that strikes the audience to the core upon watching it unfold.
Everyman’s Theatre’s The Brother Size is this season’s show not to be missed!
Running Time: 100 minutes, with no intermission.