Review: ‘The Brothers Size’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney presented by Ubuntu Theater Project in Albany (****)

by Barry David Horwitz
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Forty of us, sitting in folding chairs, in the warm Sunday evening outdoors, in the back yard of Dana Meyers Auto Care on San Pablo Avenue in Albany, are ready for an on-site performance. The broken-down cars in the open garage space are ready and waiting. The black auto tires are piled against the fence, and auto parts and tools decorate the cement working yard in front of us. No pretense here — just warning signs, advertisements, auto tools, and an old car seat tell us the set is the play is the thing: it’s the mechanicals’ drama we are about to see.

Suddenly, three dudes march down the aisle, full of rap, dance moves, beat box beats. Their musical intro through contemporary rap and hip-hop dance gives us a poetic and spiritual edge that colors the entire 70 minute performance. We begin to figure out the three dudes: Ogun Size (Deleon Dallas), is an imposing guy who owns and runs the auto shop. Ogun is serious, thoughtful, and hard-working; he has tried to look out for his wayward baby brother, all their lives. Oshoosi Size (Terrance White) comes fresh out of jail, sleeps in the shop instead of working, and looks around for cars and gals — he’s up for some fun, not much for work along side Ogun.

Then Oshoosi’s old buddy, a former prison-mate, Elegba (William H.P.), who bubbles over with enthusiasm, music, play, and trouble. We have to keep our eye on him because he brings out the danger and trouble that Ogun fears for his wandering brother.

These three powerful and distinct guys bring forth classic themes, African myth, and spiritual-political challenges to the brothers and rivals, surrounded by cars, machines, and U.S. limitations. Even the black cop on the beat waits for them to slip up, just a little. He harasses and harangues them, incessantly — representing power and protecting white privilege. MacArthur Grant award-winning playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays” opened in 2007, at the New York Public Theater, has combined ritual and music and family strife and epic struggles to forge a deceptively simple play. “The Brother Size,” the second play from his trilogy, has already been performed many times, from New York to L.A. to San Francisco. Here, McCraney combines Greek and African and U.S. rituals which subtly grow and mingle in front of us — like a dance or shards of epic poetry.

William H.P.’s serpent-like, seductive, and sensual Elegba represents all the appeal and the addiction to trouble that make up the school to prison pipeline, which was recently presented by Anna Deveare Smith in her one-woman show on U.S. education at Berkeley Rep. H.P. embodies the challenges facing a black man in the U.S., pointed up by the fact that he works in a funeral home. H.P.’s portrayal of the allure of the criminal life makes a poignant and perplexing picture—well worth a trip to Albany.

Each of the actors embodies tragic and touching choices and challenges: Ogun tries the straight path and is challenged by his imaginative and adventurous brother, who was entranced by a photo book of Madagascar while in prison. The great natural and African world calls to him, and he reaches for it, child-like — sleeping with a teddy bear on an old car seat and still believing in Santa Claus. There’s a lot of tenderness and a lot of lyrical narrative in the play, punctuated by familiar tunes.

Director Keith Wallace manages to take the small, realistic canvas and make large and moving strokes. Big epic movements, stirring poetic passages, and Homeric themes and music make up the weave of thia direct and emotional play. Finally, we realize that the Brothers Size are US, and their confict is ours, and transformative. Their challenges are in the news, everyday, and we need to take heed. Their music is on all our lips and in our eyes. We must listen, carefully. The language is beautiful and mingles street-lingo with eloquent lyrics, popular songs with heartfelt love and the tenderness of brothers. Go and listen to “The Brothers Size” and find out for yourself — fine theater deserves a listen, especially in the fresh air of an auto shop’s cement back yard. It’s almost like being in ancient Greece —or Africa.

Watch for Ubuntu Theater Project’s next piece, “Waiting for Lefty” by Clifford Odets — played at vintage car dealer Classic Cars West, on 26th St., in Oakland, beginning Sept. 3rd. Managing Director Colin Blatell says, “The Ubuntu Theater Project is committed to shaking up the status quo in theater.” And they sure do that in Dana Meyers back lot.

The Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of “The Brothers Size” plays in the back yard of Dana Meyers Auto Care through August 22. For further information, click here.

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“The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, produced by Ubuntu Theater Project. Director: Keith Wallace. Ass’t. Director/Vocal Coach: Candace Thomas. Set Designer: Mary Hill. Lighting Designer: Stephanie Anne Johnson. Sound Designer: Steven Leffue.

Cast: 

Ogun Size: Deleon Dallas. Oshoosi Size: Terrance White. Elegba: William H.P.

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