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THEATER REVIEW: “The Brothers Size” creates riveting drama

There’s a bracing new voice in American theater. It belongs to Tarell Alvin McCraney, and you can see a prime example of his work in “The Brothers Size,” his heartbreaking three-character parable of brotherhood, love and jealousy, through Feb. 24 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.

“The Brothers Size” is part of McCraney’s Brother/Sister trilogy set in a poor black neighborhood in Louisiana. (Another in the trilogy, “In The Red And Brown Water,” was produced earlier by UCSD at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre in La Jolla).

But “The Brothers Size” is not the kind of play you’re used to seeing. The characters’ first names are deities from West African Yoruba mythology. They speak the stage directions and then perform them.

The stage is nearly bare, the only permanent fixture a drum set played by percussionist Jonathan Melville Pratt. Music and dance are as much a part of the play as the script.

McCraney developed “Brothers” with Yale Drama School classmate Tea Alagić, who directs this production.

Auto mechanic Ogun Henri Size (Joshua Elijah Reese) welcomes younger brother Oshoosi (Okieriete Onaodowan) home after a stretch in the slammer, but is surprised to find him with prison buddy Elegba (Antwayn Hopper) in tow.

Here’s the Yoruba connection: Ogun is the god of iron and the patron of blacksmiths; Oshoosi the god of hunters or wanderers; Elegba the trickster.

Ogun, the elder brother, has always felt (or, more to the point, been held) responsible for “Osi,” and now assumes he will stay out of trouble and come to work in the auto shop. But getting up early is not on Osi’s timetable. “He like that shit, up all early in the morning working,” Osi notes. “For what?”

Osi wants a little freedom, at least for a while, and looks forward to the female companionship he lacked while in the pen. Ogun fears his brother is too much influenced by Elegba, whose calls to the “good life” represent temptation and danger.

Alagić is blessed with a superb cast. Reese’s Odun shows warmth and brotherly protectiveness tempered with a distrust of Hopper’s shirtless, freewheeling Elegba (whose physique made it easy to understand his influence on Osi; perfect for his tempter character).

Onaodowan’s pleasure-seeking Osi, the kid with the wide smile and engaging personality, plays well off both Elegba and his concerned elder brother.

The tension between the brothers and Ogun’s fear of Elegba’s influence on Osi play out in the round, and mostly within a sand circle drawn by Ogun at the beginning of the show. The dialogue is often rhythmic, even musical; the actions fluid and often even dancelike, accompanied by the drums. Credit Alagić for the approach, which is like no other I’ve seen – and it makes for riveting drama.

The details

“The Brothers Size” plays through Feb. 24 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.