A lot has been made about the mythic sweep of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Brother/Sister plays, especially in his use of the names of West African gods for many of the characters. The real myth-making, however, happens at a more earthly place, as several generations of African Americans living in an unnamed Louisiana town play out before us, often bonded by links stronger than steel.
A dense and weighty theater experience: Namir Smallwood (left) and James A. Williams
The Brothers Size Guthrie Theater Dowling Studio 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis 612.377.2224; through Sept. 29
The Brothers Size looks at two such bonds, between a pair of brothers (the Sizes from the title) and between the younger brother and another local man he knows best from a stint in prison. Brought to life by a trio of actors at the top of their game, the play, making its area debut in a production from Pillsbury House Theatre and the Mount Curve Company, is a worthy follow-up to last year's best-of-the-year winner In the Red and Brown Water.
At the core are Ogun and Oshoosi, the two brothers. Ogun is older, settled, and runs his own car shop. Oshoosi has just gotten out of the pen after a two-year stint for an unnamed crime. The pair have an uneasy relationship. Oshoosi is restless and trapped — physically by the conditions of his parole and the lack of a car, spiritually by a sense that his life is over before it even got a chance to start. Meanwhile, Ogun tries to be a father to Oshoosi, though their conversations early in the play consist mainly of a lot of shouting.
Moving into the spaces between is Elegba. He and Oshoosi share a bond nearly as strong as brothers'. The pair's time inside has brought them together in a way that Ogun can only guess at.
Though clocking in at less than 90 minutes, The Brothers Size offers a dense and weighty experience that probes deep into the nature of relationships. It's aided by three terrific performances. James A. Williams and Gavin Lawrence return from last year's production to their roles of Ogun and Elegba, while Namir Smallwood takes on Oshoosi.
After slowly building during the first half, the story gets to its core, giving Lawrence and Smallwood a chance to delve into their characters' relationships before turning to the shared beating heart of the brothers. The first relationship plays out in a dreamlike sequence in which Oshoosi finally gets to feel free, even if it is just for a few minutes while driving out by the bayou with Elegba, revisiting the secret connection between them. It doesn't end well for Oshoosi, who, along with his brother, has to face dire consequences. That plays out not only with verbal fireworks, but in moments that manage to be penetrating, heartwarming, and funny all at the same time.
Director Marion McClinton and the company infuse the show with an intense physicality, while also riding gentler, musical rhythms. Midway through, Oshoosi oversleeps and is forced to walk from home to his brother's shop. His walk turns into a kind of march, aided by percussionist Ahanti Young, as he trudges along in the intense Gulf Coast heat. Decades of personal disappointment play out with each step Smallwood takes, intensified by the chanting and singing of Williams and Lawrence. Hours of dialogue may not have said as much as these brief minutes onstage.