The Brothers Size
Young Vic Theatre Autumn 2007, Autumn 2008
Previously seen in New York and a short pre-London tour, this first play from Tarell Alvin McCraney shows remarkable power and control, creating a deeply moving portrait of believable and sympathetic characters.
We are told that it draws on Nigerian myth for its plot, but it is so anchored in solid reality that it might well be a personal family story retold.
I use that word 'retold' purposely, since this deceptively simple-looking play (three characters, bare stage, mimed props) is actually sophisticated enough to seem both narrative (an effect increased by having the characters speak their own stage directions) and dramatic.
McCraney's subject is brotherly love, and particularly the ways in which both giving and receiving it can be both enriching and burdensome.
In a small Louisiana village, Ogun Size is an auto repairman who has always watched over his younger brother Oshoosi, who has just been released from prison for a petty crime and is adjusting to freedom.
And the first flash of recognition comes as we see how Ogun's well-meaning attempts to encourage his brother to move forward are received as nagging, while a fellow ex-con's friendship offers Oshoosi the comfort of being understood even as it slows him down.
Such insights abound, and are presented with a naturalness that is convincing and touching. For Oshoosi, the greatest horror of prison was not being locked up, but the unnamed (but easily guessible) degradations his despair led him to.
The buddy's friendship has darker motives that threaten more than support. And Ogun realises that a lifetime of taking care of his brother has been both a crippling burden and his greatest glory.
On one level the play is a battle for Oshoosi's soul, on another the continued testing and affirmation of the brothers' love. Throughout, despite the mythic evocations and a style of simple, short sentences that take on poetic rhythms, it is the very real human experience that is foremost.
Obi Abili (Oshoosi) and Nyasha Hatendi (Ogun) capture the full complexity and depth of both brothers, never more touchingly than in their few moments of unforced warmth and shared memories, while Nathaniel Martello-White successfully makes a real character out of the prison buddy who is primarily a plot device.
Effectively using the intimate space of the Young Vic studio and setting the play in the round, director Bijan Sheibani keeps the focus on the personal drama while allowing the unforced poetry and hints of universality to emerge.
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Review - The Brothers Size - Young Vic Theatre 2007