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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

The Brother/Sister Plays Part 2 Completes McCarter Trilogy

The McCarter Theatre's production of Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy continues with Part 2: The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet joining Part 1: In the Red and Brown Water in repertory.

The setting for the trilogy is San Pere, a fictional city in Louisiana Bayou country.  The events depicted in the trilogy occur in chronological order. The second play The Brothers Size takes place roughly 10 years after the conclusion of the first In the Red and Brown Water (already reviewed here), and the third play, Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet occurs about twenty years after that. The time of the action is described as "Distant Present."  Author McCraney employs that phrase to indicate that the past is always part of us as well as to impart a sense of timelessness to his saga.  Thus, McCraney is vague about the actual time in which the plays are set.  However, culling the material on hand, I would conclude that the period depicted extends over more than thirty years to the present or near present.

Although each of the three plays can clearly stand on its own, they are cleverly structured to amplify one another with story threads continuing through each of them.  Water centers on the teenage Oya.  After the opportunity to attend college slips out of her hands, Oya is offered love and a home by Ogun Size.  When she cannot conceive a child, she leaves the good-hearted, sexually diffident Ogun to chase after the sensual Shango with classically styled, tragic results.

The second play The Bothers Size depicts the efforts of Ogun Size to keep his younger brother, Oshoosi, on the straight and narrow.  Ogun has employed Oshoosi in his car repair shop.  Lurking evilly around Oshoosi is his prison mate seducer, the bi-sexual Elegba (whose maturation is depicted in the first play).  Elegba knows just how to lead the sweet natured but weak Oshoosi to ruination.

The title character of the third play, Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet is a high school senior conceived by Elegba after the conclusion of The Brothers Size.  Marcus is a personable, good natured youngster, who is relatively comfortable with the knowledge that he is gay.  Marcus does find it difficult to convey the nature of his sexuality to his girlfriend Osha who seems to be the only person in San Pere unaware of his sexuality. Marcus believes that he can better understand himself by learning about his father Elegba who died before he could get to know him.  A prominently repeated dream that Marcus has seems to contain the key to his understanding the soul of his father.  It is odd that the man in his dream turns out to be his father's friend Oshoosi (whom Marcus has never known) whose presence in the dream provides a message for his brother Ogun.

McCraney informs us that all of these plays are largely based on Yoruban views of the cosmos. And it is true that Sea and Marcus, the first and third plays seem classically mythological in their themes.  They are expansive, rich, dramatic, humorous and recommended.  However, the former is ultimately marred by being overly stylized classicism, and the latter is too amorphous and unclearly focused to fully satisfy.

The beautifully polished gem of the trilogy is the naturalistic, sharply focused, deeply moving The Brothers Size.  Anyone who has had a younger sibling whom he has protected and nurtured or who has been on the receiving end of such tender, loving care from an older sibling will surely be deeply moved by the complexities and depth of feeling so beautifully conveyed here.  The pain, frustration and regret that are inherent in the texture of such deep and often inexpressible love are captured with an accuracy and depth that is all too rare in our theatre.  The Brothers Size amply demonstrates that the most universal plays present us with unique, fully defined characters in specific settings.  When the author is able to find their core humanity, their universality is revealed.  Depriving characters of their specific ethnicity, attitudes and beliefs results in ruinously depriving them of interest and reality.  Water and Marcus each have a dozen characters, but it is the three character Size that truly scintillates.

Director Robert O'Hara directs Part 2 more naturalistically than Tina Landau directed Part 1.  His approach is particularly appropriate and effective for The Brothers Size.  The mostly bare, open to the back wall, setting employed by director Tina Landau for Part 1 remains intact here. However, O'Hara does employs a large commercial garage door for The Brothers Size and unstintingly provides rain for Marcus.  O'Hara and his actors fully capture the depth and nuance of The Brother Size and never flinch from the sexual explicitness of Marcus.

Marc Damon Johnson's Ogun Size gains great sympathy without overtly striving for it.  Johnson presents a moving portrayal of a sweet and hard working man destined never to obtain the companionship and rewards that we wish his good deeds would bring him.   Brian Tyree Henry brings off the difficult task of convincing us that his Oshoosi Size is sweet even as he repeatedly runs afoul of the law.  Alano Miller is icily smooth and evil as the predatory Elegba and delightfully disarming as his sweet natured son Marcus.  Every actor in the large ensemble brings depth and originality to each of his/her roles.  They project a life affirming, robust enthusiasm that buoys the entire trilogy.

The Brother/Sister Plays is a co-production with the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre where it is scheduled for performance in the Fall.

The Brother/Sister Plays Part 2: The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet continues performances in repertory with Part 1: In the Red and Brown Water (see McCarter website for schedule of performances) through June 21, 2009 McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theatre), 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. Box Office:609-258-5050; online at


The Brother/Sister Plays Part 2: The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet by Tarell Alvin McCraney; directed by Robert O'Hara Cast
Ogun Size…………………………Marc Damon Johnson
Oshoosi Size/Terrell………………...Brian Tyree Henry
Elegba/Marcus………………………………..Alano Miller
Oba………………………………….Heather Alicia Simms
Osha………………………………………Kianne Muschett
Shaunta……………………………………….Nikiya Mathis
Shun/Elegua………………….Kimberly Hebert Gregory
Shua…………………………………….Samuel Ray Gates
O Li Roon……………………………..Barnaby Carpenter

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