by Lynn on May 18, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set by Ken MacKenzie

Costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Raha Javanfar

Composer/musician, Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Mazin Elsadig

Darren A. Herbert

Marcel Stewart

An elegant, fierce poem to brotherly love, temptation, devotion and wanting to belong.

 The Story.  The play was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the screenplay for Moonlight and won the Academy Award for it.

We are in the Louisiana Bayou. It’s the story of three black men. Ogun Size owns a garage and works very hard at the job. He is a quiet, decent man who does not want trouble or to cause it. His brother Oshoosi Size has just gotten out of prison and wants to let loose and have fun. He wants to meet women and party. His brother puts him to work and be respectful and not get into trouble. Then Elegba shows up. He was Oshoosi’s cell mate. He’s pure charm and perhaps devious plans. He wants Oshoosi to join him for some fun. He has a beat up old car and Ogun works on it so it becomes a souped up car.

A note about the characters’ names: From the program: “The character names come from the gods, or orishas of the West African Yoruba tradition. In the cosmology, Ogun is the patron deity who works in metal, known for his strength in battle. Oshoosi is the hunter: quick-witted avenger of those seeking justice, and Elegba is the trickster, whose temptations are meant to teach human beings.”

So Ogun in the play works on cars—hence the metal—and his strength here is not just physical but mental strength.  He works hard to keep his brother on the straight and narrow.  He has to have moral and spiritual strength not to be brought down because people might think that because his brother did not succeed that Ogun must also be responsible.  Oshoosi is a hunter of sorts, he is on the lookout for fun or mischief. He is quick witted.  He remembers slights. But he has a strong opponent in his brother Ogun.

And then there is Elegba who is a charming, smiling trickster here, tricking Oshoosi to come with him for fun.  We have an inkling trouble is ahead.

The Production.  The production is terrific. Ken MacKenzie’s set is striking. An old car is half-buried in sand. Its head lights are blinking. The windshield is missing. Characters will slide into and out of that windshield as well as slide out from under the car.

The playing area is a square filled with sand around the car. The audience sits on three sides of the square.  The musician/composer Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison provides the music which he plays on percussion instruments and sings off to one side.

As befitting a play with so much attention to the West African gods, the three actors arrive on stage dressed in undershirts and stretch pants, to mid thigh. It’s as if they are ready to fight each other. And considering the Yaruba tradition the characters have white spots painted on their legs and feet and there are black and white stripes around their fingers. Elegba has a tattoo around his right upper arm. There are no markings on their faces.

When they enter they do a ceremonial dance that is both energetic and fierce. Then they delicately touch the ground together as if in prayer and the play begins.  This is a wonderful ensemble beautifully directed by Mumbi Tyndyebwa Otu. She knows how to establish the relationships among characters without being intrusive. And she knows how to use stillness to great advantage. Characters listen without unnecessary movement. There is a such a clear focus of one character listening to another, that it compels the audience to listen too. Ogun (Daren A Herbert) sitting and listening to Oshoosi (Mazin Elsadig) spill his guts abut his concerns is stunning. The same focus on listening  is there when Ogun talks about Oshoosi growing up—Mazin Elsadig is riveted to listening to his brother.

While the three actors create a tight ensemble they are also standouts individually. The acting is compelling. There is such a sense of concentration between the three actors.

As Ogun, Darren A. Herbert is quietly arresting.  He has that bearing of a decent man who knows the world he’s in and keeps his head down. Ogun was aware of what people said about him and his brother as they were growing up. Ogun raised Oshoosi. Ogun knew about malicious gossip about his family and he knew that people did not look kindly on Oshoosi and probably thought Ogun was responsible. It was a burden he endured with dignity and grace.

As Oshoosi, Mazin Elsadig has that energy of a person who has just been let loose from prison.  He’s combative with his brother but not a bad person, just easily lead. He remembers slights from his growing up. They stay with him. Ogun does not let that happen to him. How both brothers deal with their demons is fascinating.

And then there is Elegba, played with smiling charm and a sense of danger by Marcel Stewart. There is subtext with Elegba. We know his plans with Oshoosi will not be good. Elegba has that easy way with manipulation. Oshoosi will not know what hit him.

Comment. The Brothers Size is one gripping play. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has such a facility with language that he makes it both poetic and musical.  Ogun describes how his mother was pregnant with Oshoosi: “There she was, belly full a you.”

It’s musical, particular and so eloquent.  McCraney writes of black men trying to find their way in the world, not just a white world but their own world as well. There are so many rocky places for these three characters in defining what makes a man. They want to fit in but also want to be true to themselves.  And he wrote the play when he was still a student in playwright at Yale. He now heads the playwriting department.

Astonishing. As is this production.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: May 10, 2019.

Closes: June 1, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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