James A. Williams, Namir Smallwood, and Gavin Lawrence.
Photo by Travis Anderson
Pillsbury House and the Mount Curve Company return to the world of 2011's best local production in The Brothers Size, which opens Saturday at the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater.
The play is the second in a trilogy by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, following In the Red and Brown Water. Two characters from the earlier piece return, played by James A. Williams (Ogun Size) and Gavin Lawrence (Elegba). They are joined by Namir Smallwood as one of the titular brothers -- Oshoosi Size, who has just been released from prison.
Even though his character is back from the first work, that doesn't mean Lawrence is playing Elegba the same exact way.
"In reality, this play was written before In the Red and Brown Water was written and the character is a lot older than he was in that play," Lawrence says.
Lawrence also worked with McCraney in Chicago for a new piece, which also provided some insight into the world of the play. "Actors and directors focus too much on the mythological aspects, but he said that he wrote people that he knew growing up. They may have these names and they may be part of their characteristics, but these are people. You can't play a god. You can only play a person."
"When you get it on its feet, the play moves," Smallwood says, noting that the 75-minute show feels like it has enough material for a three- or four-hour production. "It is so draining emotionally."
Lawrence agrees. "It feels like we have almost bled onstage."
That starts with McCraney's words. "He has a lyricism and poetry to his writing that is fun to play with. It's like Shakespeare: everything is on the page. You just look in between the words and find different stuff to play," Smallwood says.
"There are so many discoveries you can only make by going into the belly and sussing it out. If you don't have an understanding of who these people are to each other and don't understand the environment in which they are surviving, you can't bring your own stuff to it," Lawrence says.
While In the Red and Brown Water featured a large cast, the second piece of the trilogy features only three actors.
"The three characters are so intertwined you have to stay with each other. Everything is connected to everyone else's language and movement," Lawrence says. Taking the show to higher levels couldn't happen "without working together. It was a process of evolution that wasn't always easy. It was an interesting exercise to bring three styles and the director's style into it."
The director here is Marion McClinton, who also helmed last year's production. While the four have never worked together as a unit, they have worked with each other in various shows over the years. That initial level of knowledge and trust helped to push their work.
"We all want the same thing: for the work to fly, we agree to disagree and not let that be an obstacle or impediment. There was a level of love and trust that makes it easier," Lawrence says.
And what should the audience take away?
"As an artist, I'm always hoping to illustrate different perspectives on how black men love each other and how black men deal with each other," Lawrence says. "This particular piece is a wonderful opportunity to give an audience a new perspective on that phenomenon."
"I'd like people to leave this show and call their brothers -- or any family member they haven't spoken to in a while or have an issue with -- just to say hello. This play is powerful enough to get people to do that," Smallwood says.
IF YOU GO
The Brothers Size
Previews Friday, opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 29.
Guthrie Theater Dowling Studio
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis.
For information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.