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THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs.
THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to June 1. $36-$97. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Soulpeppers production of Tarell Alvin McCraneys The Brothers Size got an unexpected publicity boost when none other than Drake showed up on opening night. If his presence and the subsequent social media frenzy helps get more people to this Canadian premiere, all the better. Its a spectacular play.
Granted, it takes a while to heat up. McCraney, best known as the Oscar-winning co-writer of the film Moonlight, has penned a simple story with archetypal resonance, but layered it with details that need time to accumulate.
In a small Louisiana town, older Size brother Ogun (Daren A. Herbert), owner of an auto repair shop, is cautious about the return of his neer-do-well younger brother, Oshoosi (Mazin Elsadig), from prison. Meanwhile, Oshoosi and former inmate (and possibly more) Elegba (Marcel Stewart), have reunited. Why? Ogun is suspicious of that, too.
The characters names are drawn from the West African Yoruba tradition, something that composer Kobena Aquaa-Harrison draws on in his haunting, percussive score.
Furthermore, McCraney has characters read their own stage directions, which at first seems self-conscious and fussy, but, as the play progresses, simply becomes part of its heightened universe.
Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu (Ma Raineys Black Bottom) understands that this play exists on a plane that mixes realism and myth, ritual and dream-like fantasy.
Raha Javanfars lighting design helps orient us, as does Thomas Ryder Paynes sound design, especially the occasional use of amplification. And Ken MacKenzies eerily effective set the show is performed in the round, with one side taken up by musician Waleed Abdulhamid is dominated by a car thats half buried in sand, a potent visual metaphor for the characters entrapment.
The actors, besides acrobatically stepping over, into and even beneath this car, expertly bring McCraneys vivid, poetic language to life. It takes a while for the plays rhythms to settle each character has any number of nicknames, and the connotations of brothers and size get subtly explored but once they do the play catches fire.
Each actor has at least one monologue that hauntingly conjures an image from the past: a story about a racist Black cop a bittersweet Christmas memory a tale of the two siblings mourning their mother.
Otu, taking her cue from McCraneys script, expertly mixes moods, ratcheting up the tension until, miraculously, a bit of grace and release emerges in a rendition of the thematically apt Try A Little Tenderness that lets us temporarily see different sides of the Sizes.
The open-ended finale makes us imagine the characters lives continuing after the play is over, during which they will, surely, replay certain scenes with those same stage directions echoing in their heads, wondering what, if anything, they could have done differently.
Like all fine plays, this is material that thrives on the energy exchange of a live audience it wouldnt work on a screen. While its here, try it on for size.