Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Brothers Size
The current production at Washington's Studio Theatre, The Brothers Size, is a spellbinding blend of family drama and African mythology told through melodic, rhythmic language that sometimes bursts into moments of singing and dance. The production, by the Foundry Theatre in association with the New York Shakespeare Festival, comes to Washington from New York's Public Theatre, and director Tea Alagic has helped the three actors and percussionist Shaun Kelly hone their performances to a dazzling polish.
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney borrows the names and qualities of Yoruba deities for his story of brothers in the Louisiana bayou. Ogun Size (Gilbert Owuor), the responsible one who owns an auto mechanic shop, takes his name from the spirit of iron; his brother Oshoosi (Brian Tyree Henry), with the name of a sacred hunter, is just out of jail and trying to rebuild his life; and Elegba (Elliot Villar), the trickster god, is Oshoosi's former cellmate. The basic question posed by McCraney is what constitutes a family bond, since Elegba and Oshoosi were as close as brothers while they were in jail, and Oshoosi has little patience for Ogun's stricter view of personal accountability.
McCraney's presentational style draws in the viewer through the use of varied storytelling techniques. The ever-present drumming provided by the talented Kelly serves as the heartbeat of the drama and also provides occasional sound effects. Peter Ksander's bare-bones scenic design mostly includes three niches in the rear wall, where the actors occasionally pose, and a bare stage defined by a circle of sand and a pile of stones in the center.
Owuor and Henry command attention with their intensely physical portrayals; much of the interaction between the brothers comes through in tests of strength, and Oshoosi conveys his sexual frustration in a hilarious series of calisthenics. Villar keeps Elegba from becoming a clichéd villain by emphasizing the character's uncertainty and fragility, the sense that he needs Oshoosi as much as Ogun needs him.