Last week, part one of Tarell Alvin McCraney's trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays, opened at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. That two-act play, In the Red and Brown Water, which continues through October 3, 2010, featured a dozen characters played by nine talented actors. Part two, The Brothers Size, which runs through October 17 at Magic Theatre in San Francisco, showcases just three actors in an 80-minute sprint that's performed without an intermission.
Though written first, The Brothers Size picks up the stories of Ogun Size (Joshua Elijah Reese) and Elegba (Alex Ubokudom) from In the Red and Brown Water (see my review). A few years have passed -- Reese's Ogun now owns the car repair shop that had employed Ryan Vincent Anderson's somewhat thick-headed version of the character. As for Ubokudom's Elegba, the open-faced boy Jared McNeill played in Water has hardened and grown up fast. Prison does that to a guy.
Joshua Elijah Reese as Ogun Size
The new kid on the block is Ogun's younger brother, Oshoosi Size (Tobie Windham), who has also just finished doing a few years of hard time. That's actually where he got to know Elegba, who looked after the lad when they were both on the inside. Poor Oshoosi: everybody wants to protect him. Ogun worries that the temptations that led his brother to prison will once again seem too inviting, so he busies the young man with work at his shop and lays down the law at home. To Oshoosi, all this tough love feels a lot like being back in the pen.
Alex Ubokudom as Elegba
For his part, Elegba haunts Oshoosi in his dreams and waking hours, using their intimacy in jail as his currency, on the condition, of course, that he not repeat the acts that transpired between them, or even bring them up. We know what obviously happened, but Ogun understands internal-combustion engines better than his brother's heart.
As in part one, the actors read their stage directions to the audience and are surrounded by minimal scenery -- a 55-gallon oil drum and a stack of tires are the main pieces. I liked the set in Water but felt the stage-direction gimmick wore thin. Here, both work well, in part, no doubt, because of the play's brevity, but also because the device feels more honest when limited to just a few characters. In Brothers, McCraney also uses repetition more judiciously than he did in Water. All in all, part two feels tighter and more polished than part one, which may have suffered from the writer's ambitions for it. The curse of the prequel-sequel, I guess.
As in part one, though, what's not cursed are the performances, which at the Magic are directed by Octavio Solis. With his round face and sad eyes, Reese's Ogun is a salt-of-the-earth type who's secretly struggling with his sense of failure over the trouble his baby brother has gotten himself into. His redemption, we can see, will only come when he figures out how to both protect Oshoosi and set him free. Elegba is a less ambitious character but Ubokudom chisels him into a trickster who's all sharp angles and dark corners, with a voice that's one part syrup and two parts menace.
Tobie Windham as Oshoosi Size
Windham's Oshoosi is the most captivating. Though not exactly a blameless victim, his biggest crime appears to be good old-fashioned bad judgment, finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oshoosi is also one of those people who feels the need to articulate, and sometimes act out, his every impulse and desire. This makes for a demanding role, requiring the actor to swing from horny hound dog to scared puppy, from the indignant man standing up for his rights to the whimpering little brother, trying yet again to explain why this time the trouble is really not his fault. Windham is simply terrific, and so is this play.
The Brothers Size runs through October 17, 2010 at Magic Theatre. For tickets and information visit magictheatre.org.