The renowned Hyde Park Theatre has the audacity to prove it by presenting Tarell Alvin McCraney’s explosive The Brothers Size, a heart-gripping stage production about the measure of black men in the deep south.
Set in the Louisiana Bayou, The Brothers Size — part of a trilogy of plays written by the co-writer of the Academy Award Winning movie Moonlight — unapologetically pulls its audience into the entangled lives of brothers, Ogun and Oshoosi Size, and Oshoosi’s friend and former jail mate Elegba.
Within the first few minutes of the play, we listen to the men sing a mournful praise lamenting “This road is rough” as Elegba pours white powder from a bag marking a big circle around the floor of the sparse set (which consists only of a metal bench and a small wooden trunk.) And while these men spend the next 90 or so minutes making full use of the intimate theatre and its various entry and exit ways (at every step mere inches from members of the audience) the three are now hermetically sealed, as if by that curious powder, in a bleak, irredeemable, all-too-American realm of their own.
Ogun Size, played by the mighty, undeniably distinctive John Christopher, runs an auto mechanic shop and is the self-proclaimed protector and guardian of his younger, recently-released-from-jail brother Oshoosi, played by the beguiling Sean Christopher (no relations.) Ogun’s attempts at keeping his lazy brother out of trouble while helping him get back on his feet are thwarted by Elegba, played with precise seduction by Delanté Keys.
Every poor, black person from the south knows these male characters intimately
Ogun struggles to secure for his brother a road to the future (represented by the shovel he’s using to build a driveway outside the home he has opened up to his brother) while Oshoosi struggles to distance himself from his past. Every poor, black person from the south knows these male characters intimately and why the brotherly bonds they keep for one another look and sound like disdain.
We’re familiar with Oshoosi’s seemingly ungrateful tone. “Death killed the lazy last,” he jokes as Ogun yells at him to get up and get ready for work. We know that every “nigga” reference is a term of deep endearment. And we get, way before we’re told, that these two brothers have been through some heavy shit.
We hope for the best, because from where we sit in the audience, we know what’s possible for both the brothers Size. But, we dread the worst, because we know what happens to our black men in this country. And so, we sit in our chairs in possession of the most useless kind of faith and let the story play out.
Each second of this play is either a raucous treat or a weighty defeat
The men ignite our senses through conversation and song, food and sleep (the two dream sequences are masterfully designed and choreographed.) Each intense, spit-sprayed exchange (and there are plenty) is soon followed by a show of the kind of raw, powerful kinship black men are particularly expert at exhibiting. Each second of this play is either a raucous treat or a weighty defeat. In the lives of so many of America’s black men, there is nothing in between.
Austin, which has slowly and systematically run off so many of its African American population, needs more tales like McCraney’s to reinforce for its citizens the deeper issues so many black men (and women) are running from.
By the end of this play, it’s up to us to decide if Ogun, Oshoosi, and Elegba measure up to their potential as worthy men. Perhaps the answer lies in the ultimate moment of the play when the lights fade to black and, forcefully and fittingly, the (older) brother sighs.
The Brothers Size has 2 final performances tonight and tomorrow night at the Hyde Park Theatre. Tickets for reserved seating are available online.