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Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney boasts a rare talent: an utterly distinctive voice. He sounds like no one else, his cadences hearty and beautiful. I am in love with his voice, and in all likelihood you will feel the same way. For better, and sometimes less so, so be he.
McCraney first made his bones with his 2009 trilogy The Brother/ Sister Plays (of which The Brothers Size is the second), set in a fictional San Pere, Louisiana, near the Bayou, in a “distant present.” The first installment, In the Red and Brown Water, was mounted at the Fountain Theatre in 2012 by most of the same team on board for this one, to the same acclaim that show has received around the world. Though each play informs and enriches the others, they are narratively independent, requiring no knowledge extrinsic to the action to appreciate his redolent metaphors inspired by the orishas of Yoruba cosmology yet with a bracing originality of conception.
Elder Ogun Henri Size (a foursquare Gilbert Glenn Brown, so deliciously different from his wily seducer Shango in the previous production) and his much younger brother, immature but good-hearted Oshoosi Size (a refreshingly non-generic juvenile Matthew Hancock), recently released on parole, comprise classically contrasting siblings, one protective and gruffly concerned, the other callow and still dangerously oblivious to the world’s harsh consequences. The tempter-trickster Elega (Theodore Perkins, reprising the character with notably inventive variation) appears to be a loyal friend but devilishly promotes chaos seemingly for its own malicious sake.
The material hews self-consciously to the authentically primal, though it rarely develops beyond the elemental. McCraney is far more concerned with orchestrating the musicality of his expression to lyrical zeniths than with developing complex themes. Rather, his profundity lies in the euphonious accents of speech, the interplay of physical movements with emotional crescendos, the embodiment of the relationships in terms far more theatrical than dramatic.
It all works to splendid effect throughout under the absolutely attuned direction of Shirley Jo Finney, whose command of this difficult style is so deceptively effortless that it takes mere seconds to discern her unmistakable touch (it’s like “Name That Tune” in three notes, abetted by choreographer Ameenah Kaplan’s signature steps). While all production values on a short budget are stellar, particular attention ought be paid to the precise and sensitive lighting of Pablo Santiago, who shapes eloquently illuminated close-ups suggestive of finely sculpted cinematic portraiture that immensely enhances the impact of the actors’ already communicative faces and bodies.
As a creator endowed with such protean and innovative gifts, McCraney nevertheless offers considerable room to grow, if he moves beyond exotic regionalism and command of the sonorities of transporting rhetoric into a deeper contemplation of the complications of his personal concerns. He’s already an ambitious artist who can be better than content to rely upon his dazzling kitbag of skills.
Nevertheless, anyone who can resist the churchy fraternal rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness” is made of far sterner stuff than I.
Venue: The Fountain Theatre, East Hollywood (extended through Sept. 14)
Cast: Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, Theodore Perkins
Director: Shirley Jo Finney
Playwright: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Set designer: Hana Sooyeon Kim
Lighting designer: Pablo Santiago
Costume designer: Naila Aladdin Sanders
Music & sound designer: Peter Bayne
Choreographer: Ameenah Kaplan
Producers: Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor
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