The Brothers Size is intense theatreSharmini Brookes
Sharmini Brookes: The Brothers Size was an intensely moving performance – a good story with plenty of local colour that spoke to a universal audience.
This play is the second in a trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney called the Brother/Sister plays. I had seen the first play In the Red and Brown Water at the Young Vic in London a couple of years ago and hadn’t been terribly impressed. Then they had gone to great lengths to fill the stage with a thin layer of water to re-create the steamy and mysterious atmosphere of the Louisiana bayous. I found the play a little confusing, difficult to follow because of the local slang and a little irritated by the actors voicing all the stage directions.
The performance of the Brothers Size in the Barney Simon Theatre was much more impressive. A minimalist stage set by Jessica Ford and lighting by Mannie Manim captured the atmosphere of the bayou without being intrusive and with brilliant acting by Joshua Elijah as Ogun, Rodrick Covington as Oshoosi and Sam Encarnacion as Elegba.
The play is about the relationship of two brothers; Ogun, the elder brother who owns and runs a garage mechanic shop and his younger brother, Oshoosi or Osi, who has recently returned from a spell in prison and is dependent on his brother for support. A friend, Elegba, tempts Osi away from honest labour with a girl-magnet car and the attractions of the local nightlife. A mythological narrative based on Yoruba folklore overlays the basic narrative so that Ogun as the god of iron, war and labour symbolises a strong if unbending will; Osi, as the Orisha or god of the forest, symbolises the wanderer and a hunter and patron of justice while Elegba, standing between the worlds of the human and divine as the owner of roads and doors, symbolises the contradictory tempting devil.
The actors speak their words in a poetic, lyrical style. As in the play I had seen before in London the stage directions are verbalized so that it begins to feel like a story being narrated by an oral historian of an African village who has to tell his audience what is happening and play the roles of the various characters at the same time. Initially somewhat irksome and slow to get into, I was increasingly drawn into the lives of the three men as they became entwined in the inevitable tragic dénouement.
The performances were intense and although they spoke in a local dialect and some slang, I found it much easier to follow this time round as the words were clearly enunciated. There were a couple of beautiful musical interludes. The first when a siren-like Elegba sings “Come On Over to My Place” to Osi in the car as they are parked off and deciding whether to go onto a club before being stopped by the police. The second time is when the brothers are together at home and reminiscing about the good times they have enjoyed together and sing Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ which had the audience tapping their feet and gyrating in their seats.
In the bar afterwards, John Kani, special Ambassador for the Market Theatre and well known for his role in Fugard’s many plays, notably Sizwe Banzi is Dead, said it took him back to the sixties when plays were more about story-telling. Hopefully some of our up-and-coming black playwrights will take a tip and forget the need to make overt political points in their plays and concentrate on letting the art speak to the audience allowing them to consider the moral choices offered by a moving human story with good acting.
The Brothers Size is at the Market Theatre until July 1.
078 477 6938
Market Theatre Complex, Newtown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa