Tuesday, September 6, 2011

GableStage: The Brothers Size (6 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of The Brothers Size on September 3, 2011.  It marks the first time that the playwright, Miami native Tarell Alvin McCraney, has had one of his plays produced in South Florida.
Set in Louisiana's bayous, the play explores the struggles of two brothers locked in a fierce tug-of-war for their souls. This is the first Southeastern production of a work by this 28-year old Miami native and New World High School graduate whose plays are pushing the boundaries of form, language and sexuality in provocative and poetic ways. Winner of the New York Times 2009 Outstanding Playwright Award.
Tarell Alvin McCraney directed a cast that included Sheaun McKinney, Ryan George, and Teo Castellanos.

John Lariviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway:

The play speaks loudly of a longing for freedom. Oshoosi speaks longingly of a book he cherished while in jail that contained photography of Madagascar. To Oshoosi that may represent both the open spaces just out of his imprisoned reach, and a place (Africa) where he may feel liberated from his perceived oppression of being an African American. The use of music/singing is also freeing. One of the best moments in the show is when Oshoosi and Ogun engage in a playful, Motown-inspired rendition of the song "Try a Little Tenderness." In that happy moment they are just two brothers free from care. Their love for one another is apparent at last.
McCraney's use of imagery is strong, and his language is at times rough (including liberal use of the n-word). The roughness is part of the painting of the characters, however, as are their fast speech patterns and speaking over one another.
All three actors—Castellanos, George and McKinney—work as a well-oiled machine to create the right mood of the piece, the pacing of the show, and the tension between the characters. While it is not usually a good thing for a playwright to direct his own work, in this case, McCraney's direction is impeccable.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The middle play in three related dramas of McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays, this deeply moving version of The Brothers Size is (as a homecoming celebration should be) quite special. McCraney is its director, the first time he has staged his breakout work, and he imbues the production with a sense of rhythm, ritual, precision and illumination.
This simply-produced play is constantly in motion, both achingly real and highly stylized... With his original and singular voice, McCraney crafts an intense story about the unbreakable bond between brothers, a bond that is equal parts love and despair.
Blending humor and heartbreak, McCraney focuses on two brothers. Ogun Size (played with multifaceted depth by Sheaun McKinney) ... His brother Oshoosi (a joyfully charismatic Ryan George).... Serious Ogun and free-spirited Oshoosi clash, inevitably and daily. And when Oshoosi’s friend and fellow ex-con Elegba (a playfully seductive Castellanos) turns up, the tug-of-war over Oshoosi’s future begins in earnest.
McCraney’s script blends street talk and poetic insight, and his three actors handle the text, the movement and the exquisitely calibrated pace equally well.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...what should overwhelm anyone with a brother or sister is how McCraney depicts the conflicting/complementary synergy of sibling relationships as incisively as any play in the American canon.
That the brothers here are young black men trying to scrape a life out of the unforgiving underclass of a Louisiana bayou doesn’t erase a smidgen of easily recognizable universality.
McCraney... has quickly earned an international reputation as the young up-and-coming playwright who transmutes traditional theater into something to entice a younger, more diverse audience.

He blends contemporary settings and minority characters with West African folktales and classic epic themes without seeming forced or pretentious. Instead, McCraney relishes the collision of cultures.
Among several achievements as actors, George and McKinney create that sense of people bound by past joys and betrayals, and who feel that brings a debt of responsibility even when one or both let the other down. McCraney paints a portrait of how relationships bind people both the positive and negative definitions of the word.
In theory, the play is set on a bayou. But McCraney stages it in a bare black box with a cyclorama behind a scrim for dream tableaus... With such a spare set, Jeff Quinn’s nimble morphs of lightscapes carry much of the heavy lifting in creating shifts of time, place and mood.
It’s all emblematic. McCraney revels in the sheer theatricality of theater, the use of artifice to communicate thoughts, ideas and emotions unhindered by the naturalism that dominates most work in South Florida.
McCraney is blessed with a cast perfectly in tune with the work. They inject the 70-minute play with an infectious energy and dexterity that resembles the teamwork of a major league infield. All three mischievously recreate a run-in with an abusive lawman like storytellers around a campfire. It’s almost a vaudeville turn with a slight flavor of irreverent minstrelsy. McCraney’s directing this edition likely contributed to the actors’ preternaturally fluid delivery.
Theatergoers owe Adler a deep debt of gratitude for persevering two years to get McCraney to come work here and for modestly acknowledging that the piece needed a director with a different sensibility than his own.
Bill really goes into a lot of detail about this show; please be sure to click through to read it in its entirety.  You rarely get to see a critic unleash his enthusiasm for a piece.  It's worth reading.

Roger Martin reviewed for Miami Artzine:
A small tin garbage can is a drum; a metal bowl is struck like a bell and stroked into a crystal hum.   The set is bare and black and the back wall is occasionally shifting ethereal colors.  There is nothing else but a length of bright red cloth.   And on this set at GableStage the fascinating The Brothers Size is showing us the street world of the black man.
There's beautifully ideal casting here:  Sheaun McKinney's grounded Ogun, despairing at his lost life after swearing to his dying mother he would raise his younger brother, sacrificing his future to do so and then seeing he has failed; Ryan George's likeable bad boy Oshoosi, desperate to return to the pleasures denied in prison; Teo Castellano's Elegba, the hustler with the moves both emotional and physical, tempting and seducing.

The bareness of the stage is matched by the bareness of the performances.  To go to bed they lie on the bare floor.  To eat their dinner they sit on the bare floor.  There is no mime; actors break the fourth wall with stage directions.   And the simplicity of this gives the poetic power to the acting.   Street struts and posturing, cursing, violent arguments, love and kinship, rapping, singing (rejoice for the brothers as they sing “Try A Little Tenderness”) and tough humor meld into an imaginative telling of hardship and few pleasures. 
Chris Joseph actually managed a proper review for The Miami New Times:
Performed on a stripped down stage, native Miamian and New World graduate Tarell Alvin McCraney's seminal one-act play about two brothers living in the Louisiana bayou is steeped in West African mythology and religion And it tells a rich, dense tale through fantastic acting and simplified direction.

This was McCraney's first crack at directing one of his own plays, and the kid knocked it out of the park with direction that got the hell out of the way and let his actors tell the story.
The story rests entirely on the actors' shoulders, and all three turned in flawless performances as men with frayed souls, each dealing with the past while struggling to grasp their future. McKinney carried Ogun's heavy heart with quiet intensity, while George was charming and affecting as the restless Oshoosi. The always-amazing Castellano kept the production anchored as the enigmatic Elegba.
The Brothers Size is provocative, charming, heart wrenching, hilarious, and emotionally charged all rolled into one. It's a heady brew of awesomesauce that once again proves how GableStage is head and shoulders above all other stage companies in this town while also shedding light on McCraney's insane talent. For a play that is essentially a coming-of-age story featuring three men riffing, expounding on brotherly love and mythic themes for an hour and a half, every note has to be hit perfectly, and all parties involved nailed it.
Since he likes baseball metaphors, we'll just observe that just as there is no crying in baseball, neither is there "awesomesauce" in theatre.  Othewise, Mr. Joseph has crafted a perfectly acceptable review.

Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
There are times when a play is filled with such realism, style and honesty that  one must admire its production.  There are other moments in the theatre when either the actors, director or playwright are so outstanding, one also feels the need to find laudatory words.

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size  –  currently at GableStage – is one of those productions which defies the odds and is eligible for all of the above praise. It can only be described as powerful and original...
....it is distinctive because it combines many theatrical elements, including music, beating drums, dance and body movements and twisting  which will throw one for a loop... It is a lesson in “street talk” which, at first,  sounds alien but, as you become attuned and engrossed, you will pick up the rhythm of the vocabulary. McCraney also uses verbal stage direction as part of this distinctive dialogue to emphasize the theatrics  and moments which we visualize as  coming from a foreign ritual.
As good as the material is, so too are the three actors. McKinney – “the good guy” – has you pulling for him. He gives an extraordinary tear-stained performance. and George, is especially notable.  It is not just the words he speaks but the rhythmic, writhing, precision body movements which are so  powerful. Ditto for Castellanos whose movement and speech talks volumes about talent.  It’s an impressive trio of actors.
The Brothers Size plays at GableStage through October 10, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment