At 28, Tarell Alvin McCraney is quite young for an internationally produced playwright. Here in October for rehearsals of his acclaimed play The Brothers Size, McCraney arrived at City Theatre for an interview wrapped in a thick black sweater. He's tall and thin, with a shaved head, and though he can seem reserved at first, he grows increasingly animated when discussing the power of theater.
The Brothers Size was first staged at New York's prestigious Under the Radar Festival, in January 2007, when McCraney was still a student at the Yale School of Drama. The drama tells of hardworking Ogun Size, who owns a car-repair shop in Louisiana bayou country; his wayward younger brother, Oshoosi, just sprung from prison; and Elegba, Oshoosi's unpredictable fellow ex-con. The New York Times review called it an "absorbing and emotionally resonant drama" and praised McCraney's "richly drawn characters" and the "colloquial poetry" of the dialogue.
The first full production, at New York's Public Theater, was followed by stagings at London's Young Vic and theaters in Washington, D.C.; Dublin; and Barcelona. McCraney also has a half-dozen other professionally produced plays, including the other two installments of his "brother/sister" trilogy. And he's an International Writer in Residence at London's Royal Shakespeare Company.
City Theatre's Size, directed by Robert O'Hara, stars Albert Jones (Ogun), Jared McNeil (Oshoosi) and rising Pittsburgh star Joshua Elijah Reese (Elegba).
The play seems made for City's intimate, black-box-style Hamburg Theatre. McCraney borrows character names and adapts narrative elements from Yoruba culture, whose cosmology (like the Old Testament and much classical mythology) often dramatizes the fraught relationships between brothers. The fact that his characters speak their stage directions aloud ("Elegba exits the way he came") is as striking as much of the dialogue. ("Can't do nothing but grieve for a man who miss his brother like that. Sound like a bear trapped in some flesh tearing snare hollering like that.") The set and props are scant.
"This play in particular I wrote so you could do it on a sidewalk," says McCraney. "If they say the stage directions, then you don't have to see everything."
At Yale, where his instructors included such luminaries as John Guare and Lynn Nottage, the Miami native fell in love with live theater as shared illusion. "Without you being there, the story doesn't happen," he says. "That act of faith is what keeps theater vibrant and beautiful."
His favorite playwrights include August Wilson. In 2005, at Yale, Craney acted as the late Pittsburgh legend's assistant while Wilson worked on the premiere of his final play, Radio Golf.
McCraney loves how Wilson makes dialogue flow. "The freight train of the language that's in your mouth once you do those lines, it's unparalled." When he reads Wilson's Jitney, he says, he can't help saying the words out loud. "It's that evocative to me."
City Theatre presents The Brothers Size Thu., Nov. 13-Dec. 21. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. $15-60. 412-431-2489 or www.CityTheatreCompany.org
- Theater as an act of faith: Tarell Alvin McCraney