Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney should be a familiar name to Austin audiences, between winning last year’s Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “Moonlight” (based on his play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”) and a moving production of his play “In the Red and Brown Water” by the University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance last October. The latter is the first part of a triptych of related works, called “The Brother/Sister Plays,” and now Capital T Theatre brings us the second, “The Brothers Size.”
“The Brothers Size” follows up on the lives of two supporting characters from “In the Red and Brown Water,” Ogun and Elegba, while introducing us to Ogun’s brother Oshoosi. The play stands completely on its own, though audiences familiar with the first play will see connections between the story and themes of both works. The story follows Oshoosi shortly after his release from prison as he struggles to live a life on the straight-and-narrow under Ogun’s hardworking influence. At the same time, he yearns for a more carefree life with his former prison friend Elegba.
Capital T Theatre is usually known for its productions of incisive, and sometimes savage, black comedies, which makes this lyrical, dream-filled family drama something of a departure for the company. Jason Phelps, who usually appears on stage in Capital T productions, helms this show as director, bringing a unique, poetic sensibility that contrasts nicely with artistic director Mark Pickell’s more gritty, earthbound style. This change of pace perfectly suits the text and makes for a strong production that serves to better diversify the range of voices heard on Austin’s stages.
The three men at the heart of “The Brothers Size” each have emotionally and physically demanding roles to play — portraying varying shades of masculine identity and expressing the unique and trying demands of brotherhood, in all its mutable forms. As Ogun Size, John Christopher portrays a gentle giant whose outbursts of anger at his brother barely disguise the deep, heartfelt love underneath the surface. Sean Christopher, as Oshoosi, is dreamy and indeterminate, without ever crossing the line into becoming insufferable. The chemistry that the two men have as brothers is palpable, and the scenes they share together crackle with electricity as they move from anger to joy to sorrow. The always reliable Delanté Keys, as Elegba, is the perfect foil to Ogun and siren song to Oshoosi, providing the crucible that brings to life the brothers’ relationship.
McCraney’s poetic style in “The Brother/Sister Plays” is unique, and “The Brothers Size” is no exception. The actors state their stage directions (sometimes conspiratorially to the audience), and scenes often dissolve into dreams or chants. It can be difficult at first to fall into the play’s rhythm, but the deliberate pacing and lack of an intermission allow the words and the actors to slowly weave their hypnotic spell on the audience.
As assistant director and dramaturge, Crystal Bird Caviel explains in the program notes, “McCraney has revealed that he is intentionally trying to create a drum-like cadence and rhythm in the speech of the actors using beats, pivots, and inflection to create the unique poetic dialogue of ‘The Brothers Size.’” Phelps, Caviel and their powerful cast quite effectively capture this rhythm on the stage, making McCraney’s evocative work into a timely and potent piece of theatrical magic.
“THE BROTHERS SIZE”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 18
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.