Review: ‘The Brothers Size’ at 1st Stage

Offering timely explorations of important topics, 1st Stage continuously produces memorable plays. They are always solid, but The Brothers Size will knock you out. In it, a young man newly released from prison is housed and soon employed by his older brother. Despite their relationship, they differ greatly and smoldering tensions rise when the ex-con’s cellmate is also released from prison and appears on the scene.

Gary-Kayi Fletcher, Clayton Pelham, Jr., and Thony Mena in 'The Brothers Size' at 1st Stage. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Gary-Kayi Fletcher, Clayton Pelham, Jr., and Thony Mena in ‘The Brothers Size’ at 1st Stage. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Ogun Size (Gary-Kayi Fletcher) owns the auto repair shop where the staging is set. His name reflects the Yoruba patron deity of those who work with metal. Fletcher’s portrayal reflects resentment towards his brother, a deep sense of responsibility, and a well of nuanced connections and history between the two. Oshoosi Size (Clayton Pelham, Jr.) is newly released from prison and is out on parole. His is the name of the deity associated with human’s struggle for survival.

Pelham quickly elicits sympathy from the audience. We feel the pain of his memories of prison, and share the indignation that he feels at the pressure from his brother. We also celebrate the elation felt when he reunites with his former cellmate, Elegba (Thony Mena), named for the deity of chaos and trickery, who tempts others to try to teach them lessons. Elegba is not trusted by Ogun. Mena brings a vitality to the role that helps explain the bond that he shares with Oshoosi. These three talented actors represent a wonderful range of aspects of male relationships.

Looking at bonds of brotherhood, especially between Black men, The Brothers Size is written by acclaimed playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, winner of the Oscar for Moonlight for best film and adapted screenplay. McCraney is the recipient of many awards, including the MacArthur “Genius” grant, New York Times outstanding playwright award, and the Paula Vogel playwriting award. He is currently the chair of the playwriting department at Yale School of Drama, and this play is one of the reasons why he earned that position at a young age.

The Brothers Size is the second of a three-part series, The Brother/Sister Plays, which begin with In The Red and Brown Water and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. I list these plays because after this production, you are going to want to see the rest of this playwright’s works. McCraney provides familiar grounding for his audience, but then gives us a new lens to reinterpret what we are shown.  

Clayton Pelham, Jr. in 'The Brothers Size' at 1st Stage. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Clayton Pelham, Jr. in ‘The Brothers Size’ at 1st Stage. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Director Jose Carasquillo uses the space to control the audiences’ focus and keep the action moving briskly. Often when an actor is not in the scene, they lay down or turn their back and the scenes shift with a light cue. Lighting Designer William K. D’Eugenio uses side lighting, angles, and shadow brilliantly and the rapid-fire scene transitions are effortless. The self-narrated stage directions are in the script and add an odd poetic element to the play. Imaginative movement and dance help transport characters between their daily actions to dreams and memories.

The play begins with a ritualistic vibe as characters beat their chests, chant, and sing, but audiences do not need to recognize all of the rituals of the characters’ culture to connect deeply with the story. Sarah O’Hallaran’s sound design also supports the story well, with a varied soundscape including sirens and songs by Otis Redding and contemporaries.

The setting is in San Pere, a fictional town in Louisiana’s bayou (note that the town’s name translates as “without a father”). The time is the distant present. What set designer Giorgios Tsappas, builds with that description from the playbill is stark and terrific. Inspired by elements from Yoruba mythology, the staging is in the shape of an eye, filled with pieces of rubber from shredded tires. A concrete circle is the iris surrounding the pupil filled with car oil. Climbing up the rear wall behind the playing space are two mounds of inner tubes, parted by an alley entrance. Referencing the reality of Ogun’s Auto Repair shop, it also reflects the deep cultural roots that affect the characters.

The story is clear, even when use of movement is somewhat ritualized, flowing into the poetry and music of the piece. The actor’s singing was not the strongest aspect of the performance, but still reflected the character’s emotions. Audiences should be aware that the play stays true to the language of the characters and has a lot of swearing, and the “N” word is used repeatedly.

[Read John Stoltenberg’s Magic Time! column about The Brothers Size.]

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Brothers Size runs until February 24th, 2019, at 1st Stage – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in Tysons, VA. Tickets are available online.