Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” is a spare, poetic and in many ways audacious drama set in Louisiana and rooted in Yoruba mythology.
McCraney has been recognized as one of the brightest young writers in the American theater at the moment, and the Unicorn Theatre production, directed by Mykel Hill, shows us why. This play has its flaws — McCraney injects theatrical affectations that don’t always connect with the viewer — but this impressive effort to construct a three-character drama imbued with symbolism and poetic expression made me want to see what else the playwright has in store for us.
The second of a trilogy, “The Brothers Size” describes the relationship between Ogun (Damron Russel Armstrong), a hard-working mechanic, and his younger brother Oshoosi (Donovan Woods), who has returned home after a stint in prison. Ogun wants to help his kid brother get back on his feet, but the appearance of Elegba (Teddy Trice), Oshoosi’s former cellmate, complicates matters.
The story arc leads us to an emotional resolution between the two siblings in a denouement that teeters on the brink of melodrama, but the actors do such a good job of selling these characters that the play’s flaws are easily forgiven. One of McCraney’s conceits is to convert stage directions into spoken dialogue. The actors handle it deftly, but the results are mixed: Sometimes it’s funny, now and then it can be poignant but too often it just seems awkward.
Armstrong, a veteran of local stages, offers a theatrical performance that he executes with near-operatic vocals. His readings early on sound affected, but after a point early in the performance I just accepted it as the actor’s individual style. His performance is deeply felt and, as usual, he has charisma to burn.
Woods strives for something nearer conventional realism in his marvelously detailed performance as Oshoosi. He finds balletic grace and pungent humor in the role and marks himself as a young actor to watch.
Trice delivers a performance rich in small details as Elegba.
Rhythmic and vocal music are integral to the play, and the actors perform most of it live with available props. For the most part the musical elements are worked seamlessly into the narrative.
The play is at the Jerome Stage, the Unicorn’s newer performance space, in a configuration that places viewers on four sides of the stage. The spare scenic design by Jamie Lindemann incorporates simple props and rectangular pieces that can be moved by the actors and used for various purposes. All the design elements are strong in this technically polished production.
Other theaters have staged this play without intermission. The Unicorn inserts a 15-minute interval, which had the effect of interrupting the dramatic flow. Still, this an impressive piece of work.