EDITOR’S NOTE: Actor’s Express is postponing the remainder of “The Brothers Size” but plans to reopen the production at a later date.
Before Tarell Alvin McCraney won an Oscar for writing the screenplay of the 2016 indie film “Moonlight,” avid Atlanta theatergoers may remember productions of a few of his formative stage dramas: the 2008 Alliance premiere of “In the Red and Brown Water,” which won the company’s annual Kendeda Graduate Playwriting competition; its 2013 presentation of “Choir Boy,” which went on to earn him a Tony nomination for Best Play last year; and the 2015 Actor’s Express mounting of “Marcus; or, The Secret of Sweet.”
The current Express staging of McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” (continuing through April 5) completes a trilogy that began with “In the Red and Brown Water” and concluded with “Marcus.” Each of the dramas takes place in the same mythical Louisiana bayou town, and each of the three characters here is also referenced or actually appears in at least one of the other two works.
A climactic plot development in “Water,” for instance, is recounted again in “Brothers.” And all of the plays are steeped in the storytelling traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa, containing similar narrative themes and incorporating certain stylistic techniques that occasionally feel more tedious and pretentious this third time around — such as having characters periodically articulating their own stage directions and internal thought processes, or breathing in melodramatic unison and breaking into sudden musical interludes.
In director Eric J. Little’s economical Express production, the venerable S. Renee Clark is billed as the show’s music consultant, and those isolated moments are invigoratingly choreographed by Jelani Akil Jones. To be sure, Little’s previous directing credits are impressive (including Theatrical Outfit’s “Thurgood” and True Colors’ “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” among others), although it’s something of a shame that this new phase of his theater career seems to have put on temporary hold his former standing as one of the finest actors in town.
But Little’s own acting expertise could explain his proven directorial propensity for eliciting superb performances from his casts. His co-stars in “The Brothers Size” are no exception to that rule. All of them are making their Actor’s Express debuts and, frankly, none of them are exactly familiar faces on the local scene — which only makes it easier, of course, for an audience to so fully accept and believe them in these particular roles.
Aaron Sedrick Goodson plays Ogun Size (a character first introduced in “Water”), who owns an auto repair shop and struggles to keep a watchful eye on his recently paroled brother, Oshoosi (who materialized in several dream sequences in “Marcus”). Portrayed by Terrance White, Oshoosi yearns to be truly free, but he’s prone to his own private nightmares. Many of those involve a fellow ex-con who threatens to lead him astray, Elegba (another earlier character from “Water,” and later the father of the titular Marcus), played by Ibraheem Farmer.
On the surface, “Water” was a potentially pedestrian drama about a young girl’s coming of age, at first torn between leaving home on a college scholarship and staying behind to care for her ailing mother, and then eventually torn between two lovers, just as routinely. By a similar token, for all of its atmospheric blurring between illusion and reality, “Marcus” was basically just another coming-out story about its gay protagonist grappling with his sexuality.
In one sense, that McCraney might be covering common dysfunctional-family ground in “The Brothers Size” is part of the theatrical conceit of his trilogy. But, as in those other two cases, the poetic flourishes in the writing keep the play feeling fresh and vital, no matter how ponderously the plot ultimately unfolds — that, plus the additional benefit of a trio of purely galvanizing performances.
“The Brothers Size”
Production temporarily suspended through early April, 2020. Show will reopen at a later date. $20-$35. Actor’s Express (at King Plow Arts Center), 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-607-7469. www.actors-express.com.
Bottom line: By turns lyrical and heavy, but powerfully performed.
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