Fort Worth — That thundering sound emanating from S-Ankh Rasa's masterful drumming might as well be the audience’s collective heartbeat in Jubilee Theatre’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s powerful tale of confinement and freedom, The Brothers Size.
Adapted from the Yoruba storytelling traditions from West Africa, The Brothers Size opens with Ogun Size (Rico Romalus Parker) trying to wake his recently paroled brother, Oshoosi Size (Seun Soyemi), for work at Ogun’s garage. Osi is reluctant, but Ogun is insistent. At the garage, Oshoosi is visited by his friend Elegba (Adam A. Anderson), which introduces the draw of a life Ogun is trying to keep him from. The familial but tense triad struggle against each other with Osi at the middle, at a crossroads.
The names of the characters are drawn from Yoruba characters. Ogun is an iron worker, adapted here as a mechanic and owner of his own shop. Oshoosi is a hunter, who in the play is portrayed as a restless man unmoved by the thought of working a 9 to 5. He seeks adventure, which often gets him into trouble. Especially considering that his best friend, Elegba, is a trickster character in Yoruban tradition.
Beyond the character and story inspirations, McRaney uses a Brechtian alienation effect by having the characters sometimes speak their own stage directions. Not only does it provide incite into the characters minds, but it also detaches them from their roles, firmly asserting them as characters in a story, which also owes to their Yoruban origins. What this accomplishes is it puts the focus squarely on the story. And what a story it is.
Geniusly adapted to modern American, The Brothers Size approaches the theme of freedom versus confinement with mesmerizing deftness. Having been recently paroled, Oshoosi, in his mind, trades one prison for another as his brother Ogun acts as a disciplinarian towards him. Elegba seemingly offers freedom, which turns out to be, well, Elegba is a trickster. Finally, Oshoosi is faced with a situation that is neither clearly freedom nor prison. The levels of complexity at work in this script are marvelously plotted with surgical precision.
To match that, director Tre Garrett has produced a peerless show. Soyemi, who is actually from Nigeria, is Oshoosi. The part is demanding, and Soyemi is more than up to the task. His portrayal of the conflicted young man is incredibly restrained, meaning that he manages the uncertainty of Osi’s situation with a tentative uncertainty that is made stunning when he finally does emotional break out and assert himself. It is a chilling performance.
Parker’s earnestness is such that he makes the audience root with him for his good-hearted but otherwise misguided brother. The burden he carries is felt. It has actually weight, communicated through Parker’s performance. Most people can only hope to love someone as much as he loves his brother.
The Trickster, Elegba, like Osi, is a subtle character. It’s easy to play a character like that big, but Anderson takes it the other way. Elegba is a concentrated character. He knows what he wants, but he’s delicate in how he seeks to attain it. Anderson’s performance makes you want Elegba to be good so bad. He’s so imminently likable and yet trusting him is so dangerous. His role, his own place in life, is heartbreaking. Anderson is brilliant in the role.
The addition of the djembe, played by Rasa, is a perfect addition (the script doesn't include such a character). The drum is the heartbeat of the show. Garrett’s decision to use this as a part of the story gives the story its emotional soundtrack.
Finally, the production crew also turns in a flawless effort. Particularly Michael Pettigrew’s set, using weathered wooden boards to provide the backdrop of Ogun’s house and shop, provided for clear staging and smooth yet definitive transitions. Junene K’s choreography, in which the characters dance and chant with chains, is petrifying in the best way.
Jubilee Theatre usually does excellent work, but this is a crowning achievement. There are no fancy puns to close this review out. Just a plea. Go see this show. This is what theater should be like all the time.