Thursday, August 1, 2013

ASU at The Cloverdale Playhouse: "The Brothers Size"

Since its 2007 debut in New York at the Public Theatre, Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size has gone on to acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. The still in his 30s playwright's award winning drama was given a resounding Alabama premier recently at The Cloverdale Playhouse.

Under Alabama State University Theatre instructor Anthony Stockard's capable direction, featuring a tight ensemble of ASU alumni, the production took otherwise commonplace themes of the search for manhood, and the meanings of brotherhood, freedom, and friendship to new heights.

As McCraney's script connects the Yoruba culture to modern day America, Mr. Stockard emphasizes it by introducing the play with a stunning dance choreographed by Desmond Holland and authentically costumed by ASU faculty member Ramona Ward, with James Tredway's striking lighting effects. In it, three Yoruba gods -- Ogun [the strong], Ochussi [the wanderer], and Elgeba [the trickster], guided by Egungun [an ancestral shaman] -- establish their interdependence, and are then transformed into the characters of the play who not only share their names, but take on their characteristics.

And we are in an auto repair shop in Louisiana run by Ogun Size [Sayyed Shabazz] as his younger brother Ochussi [Cameron Marcuse] arrives on his release from jail looking to reconnect with the world and experience the freedom he longs for without taking on much in the way of responsibility. Matters are tense from the start, with each brother tip-toeing his way in establishing an adult relationship, with long-term mistrust and animosity just under the surface.

They are joined by Elegba [Aeriel Ventrano], a former inmate with Ochussi; they have a prison-bound kinship that borders on brotherhood, but Elegba's behavior tests all their relationships, and the Yoruba culture that frames the play is ever present.

Freedom for Elegba is symbolized by a car that both Elegba and Ogun are party to providing, and his dreams of driving everywhere to experience all that life has in store, brings about some gritty performances by this ensemble. Family issues, sibling rivalries, honesty, world-weariness, brushes with the law, desire for women, drugs, and music all play their parts in a riveting production that has audiences shifting allegiances throughout. When tough choices must be made for each one's survival, we somehow approve of them, no matter how difficult.

Mr. Stockard keeps the action flowing smoothly throughout the play's many scene changes, all done flawlessly with shifts of furniture, [though the action and themes might have been more effective without an intermission] and affords each of his actors some humanizing moments of sometimes coarse humor that mix well with the ritualistic elements of high seriousness as the brothers come to grips with things that matter most: their own brotherly bond and the realization for both that manhood requires compassion and understanding.

Actors Marcuse, Shabazz, and Ventrano compliment one another so well that the ordinary characters they represent become formidable individuals.