- Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.
- Kin-esthetic: Joshua Elijah Reese, Albert Jones and Jared McNeill in City Theatre's The Brothers Size.
You may wonder about the title The Brothers Size. You can read it any way you choose. Yeah, it's a family name, but playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney also takes the measures of men. You could also wonder what he wants to say in this tight, short play. It does seem to explore the nature of brotherhood. The intense, dynamic acting of Albert Jones, Jared McNeill and Pittsburgh's Joshua Ellis Reese, along with director Robert O'Hara's crisp, urgent pacing, draw you into their reality no matter what you think, or even if you can't decide.
It helps to read program notes exploring McCraney's thinking and to know that he aims to reflect Yoruba mythology. Perhaps this play is meant as a modern relative of something a griot would tell, a folk-like tale, tagged with a message, especially because McCraney has his actors speak his stage directions aloud. Mostly though, these three black men speak the same kind of street talk you'd hear in big cities, U.S.A. Though, given that they live in Louisiana bayou country, that seems odd to me.
Oshoosi just got out of prison, and his brother Ogun say he still a fool; he still too dumb to know what's goin' down. And Ogun ain't liking to always take care of his brother's sorry ass. Meanwhile The Law, he out there watching and waitin'. And Elegba, who say he Oshoosi's brother and got real close when they was both back in the pen, want something that don't feel right. Especially when Oshoosi say he need to have a ride, he need freedom, and Elegba give him a car. That don't look right neither. Ogun see dat. Oshoosi don't.
O'Hara and his cast make this talk, punctuated and primed by proliferating four-letter words, all clear. Just as clear, a turning point comes when always innocent, always sweet Oshoosi sings along with an Otis Redding recording, "Try a Little Tenderness." Then Ogun suddenly remembers that he loves his brother in spite of everything. McCraney's imagination flourishes here. O'Hara and Reese also do well making Elegba grin and loom like the devil, like temptation and sin waiting by the window.
Jones and McNeill always surge with energy and character. Even if the play doesn't go that deep, they look totally involved in being there. Being there yourself, you needn't ask for more.
The Brothers Size continues through Dec. 21. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org