“The script was on point! The direction was tight! The actors were all amazing,” the actress Magaly Colimon declared following the riveting debut preview performances last Wednesday of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” and “Marcus: or the Secret of Sweet.”
These two plays constitute Part 2 of the groundbreaking trilogy, “The Brother/Sister Plays,” which includes Part 1, “In the Red and Brown Water,” currently running at the Public Theater in New York City through December 13.
“I loved it!” Colimon exclaimed passionately.
Directed by Robert O’Hara, “The Brothers Size” and “Marcus: Or the Secret of the Sweet,” is an avant-garde, magnificent theater experience that delivers over and over again. In both plays, McCraney pushes the envelope, ingenuously breaking through restrictive contemporary conventions to find existential perspectives in man’s search for love, communion and kinship, as well as the innocent and holistic understanding of sexuality and identity.
In “The Brother’s Size,” time shadows the distant present of the fictitious San Pere town in Louisiana, where Oshoosi Size (Brian Tyree Henry) has returned to after being incarcerated. Here, he is hounded by his elder brother, Ogun Size (Marc Damon Johnson), who is very similar to his African namesake, the Nigerian Yoruba god of iron and/or as he is also called by the people of Benin, “gu,” the Abomey word for “metal.”
Ogun, who works in metal as an auto mechanic, is very rigid and tough, qualities that he frequently unleashes on his younger brother, Oshoosi (named for the warrior/hunter god), who he feels needs to get his life together.
Like the mythological Ogun, who is also the protector of warriors and hunters, Ogun (who years earlier had taken on the task of looking after his little brother following the death of their mother) hires his brother to work in his auto shop, a confining, dirty job that Oshoosi detests.
Into this sibling relationship comes Elegba (Andre Holland), named after the mythological Yoruba (as well as Beninese) trickster who was never given credit for his good deeds, but instead was blamed for every evil that occurred. This is what evolves when McCraney’s Elegba, who had met and formed an intimate relationship with Oshoosi in prison, later reunites with him when they both return home to San Pere.
The brilliant McCraney does an excellent job in matching each of these modern-day characters to reflect the personas of their mythological counterparts in this contemporary story.
Relative to the set, there are also no restrictions because apart from a large metal table center stage and a large, old stained glass window there are no sets. This works wonderfully in the intimate Public’s Anspacher Theater.
Adding to McCraney’s powerful dialogue, which is both humorous and filled with pathos, is the popular R&B music that serves to lighten the tense and melancholy mood during heated moments between the Size brothers, making them think of more joyful days. Music is one of the elements that has sustained these men, especially Oshoosi, in and out of prison. It is what has helped him to ease the pain during the times of loss and loneliness.
In addition, the director’s use of having the actors drive the play as narrators is absolutely fierce. Through their narration, they set up their entrances, exits and dialogue, as well as an serving as effective change of scene mechanism which, in addition to adding humor and wit, showed the highly skilled talent of the actors, who effortlessly switched back and forth in their dual roles.
Commenting on these aspects–the talent, the acting and the story line–Colimon shared: “I especially loved Brian Tyree Henry [Oshoosi] and Marc Damon Johnson [Ogun]. It isn’t easy to go from character to narrator in any instance, but Brian and Marc stayed true to each beat seamlessly. Brian’s work was organic, electric, complicated, yet simple. His eyes were haunting…the hunger his character had for self-definition and acceptance was poignant. I could see the little boy who didn’t get the maternal love needed to be a full-fledged man.
His brother, Ogun, could never be the mother he needed…now that I think about it…I could feel his yearning for that love, which explained the character’s nightmares. His older brother was too much of a guy to hug him the way his mother would have” (or the way Elegba did in prison).
Colimon continued: “And Marc Johnson…well, I have seen his work before and I can’t think of anyone better to play the conflicted/protective epic elder son. His interpretation of Ogun made me think of the classic characters ‘Lear’ and ‘Hamlet.’ He brought dignity and an aristocratic flair to a man who was stuck in a working man’s world…he understood the concept of a god [Ogun] in a mortal coil. Their relationship as sibling/parent was heart-wrenching: Ogun in relation to Oshoosi – faint sibling rivalry cloaking unconditional love and protectiveness; Oshoosi in relation to Ogun – younger sibling contrariness and rebellion cloaking a child’s desperate need for parent love and protection.”
I totally agree with Colimon. In addition, Anthony Holland’s charming innocence was alluring. As Elegba, he was the embodiment of the mythological con artist, smooth, yet cunning, restrained, yet warm and loving toward Oshoosi. And he was human!
Taking over the lead in the second play, “Marcus: Or the Secret of Sweet,” Holland in the role of a confused youth in search of his sexuality and family history is superb. His character is a teenager who has the gift of dreams and is the one who is given the connection to Oshoosi of an earlier decade. He is also the one in search of a dark secret between his father, Elegba and Oshoosi. Holland is innocent and honest in his choices for this role, which he aces. He is a strong and convincing actor, and someone to watch. It is always a pleasure to watch him work, as it has been over the years to see the outstanding actor Marc Damon Johnson. (Both Jaki Brown Karman and I greatly admired him during the time we were casting.)
The other cast members of “Marcus: Or the Secret of Sweet” are Shua (Sterling K. Brown), Shun/Aunt Elegua (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), Terrell/Oshoosi Size (Brian Tyree Henry), Marcus (Andre Holland), Ogun Size (Marc Damon Johnson), O Li Roon (Sean Allan Krill), Shaunta lyun (Nikiya Mathis), Osha (Kianne Muschett) and Oba (Heather Alicia Simms), Marcus’mom.
And with the close of the curtain, the “Casting Pearls” series, which focuses on identifying outstanding talent of stage and screen, in collaboration with the New York Amsterdam News Centennial Anniversary Group, and our special guests, actress Magaly Colimon and director Marion McClinton (who was in the audience and joined us after the production), we are extremely pleased to announce several Casting Pearls Awards for the cast of “The Brothers Size” and “Marcus: Or the Secret of Sweet”” of “The Brother/Sister Plays” Part 1.
These awards are presented to the actors Marc Damon Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry for their magnificent work in “The Brothers Size” and to Andre Holland and Heather Simms in “Marcus: “Or the Secret of Sweet.” Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
We caught up with the “brothers,” Marc Damon Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and Andre Holland after the play to inform them that they were selected for the Casting Pearls Awards in honor of their outstanding work in the Public Theatre’s “The Brothers Size” and “Marcus…” by the amazingly gifted Tarell Alvin McCraney. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! They were elated.
You gotta move it, move it to see the powerhouse “The Brother/Sister Plays.”
For performance and ticket information, contact www.publictheater.org.
To contact the “Casting Pearls” series team, please e-mail us at email@example.com.