Friday, October 26, 2007

The Brothers Size

Tarell Alvin McCraney is the phenomenal backlash to the backlash: while MTV and BET are busy recontextualizing classics as "hip-hoperas" or thinly veiled Shakespeare revivals ("O"), he's taken the modern, urban story of two brothers -- think Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog -- and written it with tribal African rhythms. Jonathan M. Pratt, off-stage but visible, provides a percussive heartbeat to the already throbbing text; in the center, Oshoosi Size (Brian Tyree Henry) sleeps on a uncomfortable cairn, hiding in sleep from his do-good brother, Ogun (Gilbert Owuor). One of the possible subjects of his nightmares, the leonine Elegba (Elliot Villar), stomps around him, imprisoning him within a circle of white powder. Literal and metaphorical, immediate and foreboding, poetic and brash, this simple element of staging is all the show needs (and director Tea Alagic doesn't waste our time with anything else). The rest of the show is as graceful in movement as it is abrasive in tone, like watching animals in a sumo match. McCraney has a real voice, and for all the spiritual masks, the metadramatic slips into third-person stage directions, and the borrowed songs, it is unmistakably fresh. When these brothers call out or at one another, it is with a truth polished so razor sharp that it bleeds on their tongues.

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