Saturday, February 26, 2011

Play: Super Sized

The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Juliette Carrillo, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through 27 February.

Well, this is disappointing. Not because this isn't a good play - it's an excellent play, a fantastic play. I am just disappointed that we were supposed to see this two weeks back, but the Lovely Bride had a horrible, horrible head cold, so we moved it to a week ago, and at that point I had a horrible, horrible head cold, so we moved it to this Saturday afternoon right before the darn things closes (If I got paid for these I would be very disappointed in myself indeed).

Which is a pity, because this is play worth seeing, the most recent addition to an extremely strong season from the Rep. It is a well-written, well-directed, well-acted play, about the difference between brothers of flesh and blood and brothers of situation.

Oshoosi (Warner Miller) is young and just out of prison, living with elder brother Ogun (Yaegal T. Welch) who is a mechanic with his own garage. Oshoosi is also friends with Elegba (Eddie R. Brown III), who he befriended in the joint. Part of the play is about how Oshoosi is pulled in different directions by hard, responsible Ogun and flightier, enthusiasitc Elegba. Part of it how Ogun has to deal with his responsibilities of his younger brother. And part of it is about how Elegba is trying to live up to Ogun's status as role model and falling short. In brief, then, it is a great play where the character move and rub up against each other and spark and grow.

It also has different language and different levels. Part of it is the hard-voiced language of the Black American street, but also it has a mythic quality in the story as well. The names are those of Yorubu deities - Ogun at his forge, Elegba the trickster, and Oshoosi as the questing hunter. The Vodoun tradition identifies them as Ogoun, Legba, and Oxossi. Now add to that poetry of the language and the body as dance infects the actors as they are being ridden by their orisha namesakes.

Now add another point, where the actor as storyteller comes into the fold, and the characters narrate their own stage action ("Ogun goes back under the car"). It feels like it should be pretentious, a writerly trick, but it really works here, both underscoring the characters as well a elevating the language into the realm where the characters see themselves as mythic. It ends up as a passionate play that moves the theater goer.

It is also part of a genre I have written about before - the African-American-Male-Experience, which concentrates on the tethers of family versus the outer world. I saw it in Blue Door and in Top Dog/Under Dog. But this one gets it right and transcends its own feeling of genre (and interestingly enough, the previous examples were four and eight years ago). It grapples with the idea that you are in "theater-land", and timespace of the "Distant Present" and declares victory over it.

The production takes place on a bare stage dominated by a concrete raft stacked with tires that are chairs, beds, women, dreamspace, luggage, and all other morphible objects. It helps create the timeless nature of the mythos that it occupies.

And the actors themselves pivot physically, emotionally and mentally, dancers both in language and expression, switching from addressing the audience with stage directions to wrapping themselves fully in the reality of the play. Messers. Miller, Welch, and Brown all are brilliant, but it is Welch's Ogun that provides the ultimate center for the play.

This is a play worth seeing, and my only regret is that I did not get a chance to see it earlier. It is a recent play, and McCraney a new voice worth hearing. Wish I could have told you about it sooner.

More later,