The cast is marvelous in this provocative…


About 12 years ago, the Syracuse Repertory Theater of Upstate New York traveled to South Africa and presented an extraordinary dramatic vision on the stage of the Barney Simon Theater at the Market Theater in Newtown, Johannesburg. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The size of the brothers is part of a trilogy about tense family dynamics, and McCraney is now internationally recognized for his Oscar-winning reworking of the script of his play Moonlight. By itself, however, The size of the brothers convincingly presents itself as a major drama.

When the play was first performed in Johannesburg by its American cast, symbolism drawn from Yoruba mythology seemed to permeate the action. There was the god Ogun, the master of iron and fire; the spirit, Oshoosi, the spirit of the forest and perpetual wanderer; and Elegba, the executioner, troublemaker and tempter of others.

In McCraney’s play, Ogun is an auto mechanic (mastering automobile engines and beating the chassis panel). Her brother, Oshoosi, was recently released from a Louisiana prison and now lives uncomfortably with Ogun. Meanwhile, Elegba, Oshoosi’s cellmate (and possibly also his prison lover, there are hints and whispers), now that he too has been released from incarceration, does the tour of the Sizes’ house and Ogun’s garage, offering the temptations Oshoosi is desperate to take advantage of.

Elegba encourages Oshoosi to break free from this new “prison” of Ogun’s life and drive together to town, watch all the women and enjoy the freedom of the open road in a car whose property has a dubious provenance. Naturally, things go very wrong, just as they must when the story is so deeply embedded in the textures of ancient legends, gods, spirits, and the inevitability of retribution.

So it has become a minor miracle of drama that under the tense direction of James Ngcobo, with this new production, the legendary layer of Yoruba myths in McCraney’s play recedes, although it cannot be let go, of course. Instead, in this new production, the play is now more firmly rooted in the here and now of its Louisiana landscape. It’s a world still not free from the lopsided dynamics of black-white race relations in the United States – and the ever-present reality of police harassment, or worse, still looming in the background. background.

In this production, Nadya Cohen’s set design at the Mannie Manim Theater at the Market is austere, harsh, even unforgiving. A pile of jumbled and jumbled truck tires can serve as both a bed or a car chassis being repaired, while a black plastic bucket can represent Oshoosi’s nightmares, even if it serves as a warehouse for her modest humanizing possessions like an aerosol bottle of cologne. Simon King’s lighting design and Andrea Rolfes’ highly realistic audio visuals effectively reinforce the drama’s storyline and contribute to the threat looming in the room.

But it’s the cast, under the direction of Ngcobo, that is a real marvel. Ogun Size is played by Nhlakanipho Manqele, Oshoosi Size is played by Katlego Chale and Elegba is played by Marlo Minnaar. Ogun is portrayed as strong and unyielding, a human rock, despite, or perhaps because of, the rough deal life has thrown at him. Only slowly does Ogun Size open up near the work’s climax to reveal his own deep pain and suffering, hidden wounds and partially revealed secrets – and in the drama’s final moments, his love. limitless for its tragically flawed. brother, Oshoosi.

Oshoosi (left) and Ogun rehearse their clashes at the Market Theater. The critically acclaimed play, “The Brothers Size,” by award-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, returns to the Market Theater to celebrate Black History Month. (Photo: provided)

Oshoosi, on the other hand, is an anguished tangle of wants and desires whose simple needs could be met by a hassle-free nighttime commute in the aftermath of his years in prison, if he only had a car. And Elegba, upon his arrival, is the disruptive element whose very presence unsettles Oshoosi, while tearing apart the precarious balance the two brothers have reached in spurts.

Ultimately, Elegba introduces fatal contamination into the life of the Size Brothers by generating the play’s tragic denouement. His actions and possessions become much more than one of those artificial MacGuffins that often drives the action in a play or movie. In this case, it becomes something too believable, and with unfortunately inevitable results.

The three men in their roles achieved one of the hardest things for South African actors to do – deliver believable regional American accents. In this case, it’s their consistent, compelling African-American, Louisiana bayou accents that don’t waver or become uncertain, and in which the lines aren’t swallowed or rushed. (In truth, if the accents had been rooted entirely in a proper American accent at the location of the action, many local viewers might have been unable to catch crucial parts of the dialogue. Thus, settling on an altered accent but consistent release of such emphasis has been the wisest course of action.)

Unlike the Syracuse version, where the three actors almost danced their way through much of the story, and especially with a lithe Elegba offering almost a pasodoble like the destructive spirit that upset the delicate balance between the brothers. , in this new production, the choreography of Lulu Mlangeni is more discreet. It blends subtly with Ngcobo’s acting and action blocking. Or, as Ngcobo told us while still working on production, “That’s what I wanted us to do, to have another incarnation of the play, 12 years later.” In this objective, he notably succeeded.

The size of the brothers runs until the end of February and should be on the agenda of anyone who wants the chance to see a complex, engaging, thoughtful and yet provocative work of theatre. But leave the younger ones at home – the language is totally unvarnished, even if it rings true in the context of this drama. DM

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