The Brothers Size: Who’s Bond is Stronger?
Last night I was able to catch the opening preview of The Brothers Size at Luna Stage Theatre. Once again I walked into the transformed theatre; due to impressive set design. I sat through an hour and a half of a moving experience.
When I think of The Brothers size I think of three characters sharing a relatable story. One that hits a lot of communities and showcase issues that have been affecting African American men for years.
Written with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unique voice he finds a way to use slang, and use of the word nigga in meaningful and comical ways. Luna Stage Artistic Director Cheryl Katz says, “McCraney is probably the most celebrated African American playwright of his generation,” Though we could all recognize similar characters and scenarios, The Brothers Size is its own story.
I like to visit the Context Room (open one hour prior and 30 minutes after productions) after the performance. I want to go into the shows at Luna with as much of a clean slate as possible. I leave my mind and soul open to what I may connect with. And then I can see how other aspects of the play’s world can somehow meet me halfway.
From the Context Room I learned The Brothers Size was one angle of many different stories with themes of African family and ancestry. I was impressed with the subtlety and how these themes it was brought in to modern times and aspects affecting our culture as African Americans. But this work speaks to all people.
Everyone wants to feel safe and protected. As humans we tend to gravitate towards what feels safe to us. No matter what the circumstances. The Brothers Size tells the story of the three men who are way more complex than they initially seem; with bonds that go even deeper.
There’s Ooshi, young man played by Shamsuddin Abdul-Hamid, who has fallen into the path of a criminal and is recently out of jail. His older, responsible and hard working brother Ogun played by Brandon Carter, works as a mechanic. They both can’t sleep.
Then there’s Elegba played by Clinton Lowe, whose presence never seems to be away completely. He and Ooshi having served time together and know the Size brothers from the neighborhood.
Throughout the play we see the two Size brothers bump heads on what is next for the younger brother. Ooshi is forced out of bed by Ogun in the morning and bombarded with the word “parole” and questions about what he did in the pin? Ogun letting him know that if he does not work at the shop with him, or get a job he was out on the street.
Ooshi wanting have to fun and meet girls, like most boys his age. He worries his brother works too much and does not take time to enjoy life. Ogun’s nightmares filled with sounds of labor, reminding of slavery times.
There are moments we think Ooshi will fall in line and follow the “right” path of Ogun who keeps his head down and works everyday. But then there’s Elegba who always walks onto the scene singing a tune. Ooshi happy to talk to someone he can relate to, and harmonize with. The two sang and protected each other in jail. Also reminiscent of songs sung by slaves to relive the stress of their entrapment.
Ogun however, does not want Ooshi to have anything to do with Elegba who was still into the life of crime. But then, Elegba comes around with what Ooshi always wanted, and has been denied by Ogun, a car. And that is when bonds, paths, and choices all begin to blur.
The use of rhythm, and the characters speaking in the third person heightened certain moments. And in a way helped differentiate the characters and where they stood metaphorically in a familiar tale of surviving the hood. Cheryl Katz believes, “this is an important play, as a theatre lover and a human being.”
As I watched there were questions that kept popping in my head, especially watching the scene when Elegba and Ooshi watch the sunset? Who between Ooshi and Ogun were really free? Whose bonds were stronger? What would you do to protect someone you care for?
The bright lights, and sounds of the garage kept the audience and the characters present. You had to hear, and listen. The play was fast paced, and when it was over it did not feel like an hour a half. I wanted more. What happens to these three men? Will Ogun continue to work? Will Elgba get used to being behind bars? And where will Ooshi end up?
Tar Beach by Tammy Ryan
Recently Naeema Campbell and I saw Tar Beach. The play written by Tammy Ryan is Luna Stage‘s third world premiere of the season.
Attending the preview was more of an experience than simply watching a play. The first indication of this was entering the set, after being greeted byCheryl Katz, (Luna Stage artistic director and director of Tar Beach), entirely constructed of cardboard boxes. The set, designed by Brian Dudkienicz caused you to feel an instant sense of comfort and more appropriately, intimacy.
Like most Luna Stage productions I have seen, Tar Beach made you feel like you were entering a different world. We meet Reenie, the innocent younger sister played by Emmanuelle Nadeau, who is reminiscing in the attic of her family’s home. Tar Beach takes us to the summer of 1977 in New York City, during a dark time. The title of the play referring to rooftops, New Yorkers who want to escape the city go to the top of their buildings to soak up sun and get some peace and quiet.
The theme of Tar Beach is a girl’s lost of innocence in an unfathomable way, however the impeccable writing makes it light, comical and relatable: Hard to love parents, played by Bart Shatto and Heather Benton; Sibling squabbles, older sister Mary Claire played by Emily Verla always taking Reenie’s prized Medusa head. Then there is the outspoken best friend played by Alanna Monte who turns out to may or may not be a bad influence on the sisters. The dymanic of the parent’s relationship trickling down on their daughters.
The director, Cheryl Katz writes,
The older I get, the fewer memories of my childhood stay with me. The ones that do, grow in significance and perhaps even expand in reality and cross a line of truthfullness. I still go back to them. I unpack them again and again, looking for clues to haow I became who i am — What I fear — Who I love — How I navigate the tracherous and beautiful world around me. – Letter from Artistic Director
Tar Beach allows you to think back on candid moments of your childhood that have shaped you. Moments not deemed significant until right now.We are there with Reenie, Mary Claire, and their parent’s Roger and Brigit on a typical day following the family through the amazing set, the attic, rooftop, kitchen and the sisters’ bedroom.
Mary Claire and her best friend Mary Frances (both names from the bible) are skating on the line of guilt by trying not to get caught smoking cigarettes on the roof, and planning on how to lie and sneak out of the house to meet up with older boys. Though there may be yelling, and strain in the mother’s love towards her family, everyone comes together when the city fills with darkness and innocence is truly lost.
Be sure to attend Tar Beach, closing out the 2014-2015 season. Spend a couple hours observing a normal family in the summer of 1977 in New York City who must reevaluate after tragedy.
See Tar Beach Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8:00pm and Sundays 3:00pm. This coming Thursday April 23rd is the talkback with playwright Tammy Ryan. Purchase tickets here.
Photo Credit: Steven Lawler
Written by Patricia Rogers
Luna Stage continues to offer provacative and thought provoking productions, and I have been lucky enough to see most of them this current season. Here are some of my thoughts on Tall Girls, A White American Hero and Thrill Me: A Musical About Murder…
The East Coast Premiere of Tall Girls
I saw this in the beginning of October. What I remember the most is thinking about females in our society and how the generations before me lacked the ability to live freely. Always having to make a choice between their authentic selves and societal norms. These themes were cleverly veiled behind a group of young women passionate about playing basketball.
Tall Girls, directed by Jane Mandel and written by Meg Miroshnik brings us to the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, where money, men and apparently basketball were hard to come by.
The play featured a familiar face, Emily Verla who starred in last season’s Tar Beach. She plays Jean, a seemingly straight laced, and determined young woman coming into town. She was leaving her hometown and a lifestyle she vowed to escape from, the common housewife. She refused to settle for it as she moves with her cousin Almeda.
In the midwest, due to people migrating after the Dust Bowl there was no basketball presence in their world. The only actual basketball in town was an old flat one that Almeda, bless her heart, still practiced with. Also because of the religious presence, athleticism in women was frowned upon.
Almeda was the aggressive one, with the most passion towards basketball. She wore overalls, braided hair and saved money so that she could always chase her dream of playing basketball. She made the choice.
Haunt Johnny was interesting to me because as the only male of the play, I waited for the moment he would turn into the bad guy. Will he try to sleep with Jean or Lurlene? What was he hiding and did he really want to help these girls play basketball? He ended up being the good guy and did try his best to get them to the championship.
Cheryl Katz writes,
“I was also impressed by how Meg actually woce the physical game of basketball into the theatrical narrative of the play.”
Then there is Inez, who has to struggle between providing for her family and being a part of the team. Puppy, quiet and uptight but from a family of means. Lurlene, more mature than the other girls who talked a good game about her scandalous adventures.
Meg’s fast paced language, and watching the girls actually play basketball always kept the stakes high. The girls learned basketball skills for the production and it was thrilling to watch. As always the set was designed masterfully to feel like you were in the middle of nowhere or “Poor Praire”, and in the stands of a basketball court.
As my mind with crazy with literature and films I have studied in some of my classes in college I did enjoy watching the characters develop. The acting was well done and I believed in every young woman to get what they wanted. But course in that time period it was one of the hardest things for women to get everything they desired.
And with the context room, we are able to see the state of feminist movement, basketball, athleticism, and america during the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s.
White American Hero by Erica Bradshaw
I make a point of seeing the shows at Luna, Cheryl personally invites me too. White American Hero was a lab for Erica Bradshaw. A one woman show about her life that really hit home with me.
Erica talks about what she identified with growing up as a hero. And in this, it presented to me, the complexities of people’s personalities and who they identify with. Erica, a Black lesbian who grew up in the 80’s talking about being a white american hero or the archetype she aspired to as a kid.
She talked about being looked at differently because of how she talked, and being referred to as an oreo. I think has time goes on race relations and identification may never be “black and white”. You are going to meet a black woman who grew up watching the sterotype of her people on tv and learning that was who she did not want to become. And at the same time being a proud black woman.
It was a huge step for me to hear this woman’s life story, and to be honest see a woman come into her own. I did not get a chance to meet Erica after the show but I made sure to contact her to thank her for sharing her story. I am excited to see how far she goes.
Thrill Me, A Musical about Murder
This was the most recent I have seen and maybe one of the more disturbing at Luna Stage. But like, in the best way. I was intrigued because it was a musical about murder for the holiday season. I had to fit it in as tickets were being sold out every night, I caught the last minute added matinee a couple Saturdays ago.
The story brings us to the adaption of the Leopold & Loeb murder trial. This particular tale of twisted love, and crime has been adapted numerous times and performed all over the world. Including a favorite of mine, Rope by Alfred Hitchcock. However seeing it as a musical was it like nothing I have seen before.
Cheryl Katz writes,
“Deep down, aren’t we secretly intoxicated by the notion of giving in to our more destructive impulses, breaking conventions, and satisfying all of our appetites?”
Like the previous two productions I have talked about, seeing a mix of passion, love, murder, and all come together like that with attractive, self proclaimed supermen, made you look even deeper into yourself. Although you are watching two psychopaths move further from reality while quoting Niche, you can somewhat relate to the two of them, whether you want to or not.
I have been on either end of the game called a relationship, the ones that are all about one ups man-ship and proving which of the couple really has the power or control. Being the partner who yearns for the validity of their love from the other and then knowing the other side of never really wanting to get caught up in love, due to fear of vulnerability.
After the play ended, I felt like I was leaving this small world that was Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb’s relationship in 1920’s Chicago. I was coming up for air, it was so intense. Paired with the usual amazing set design and the witty lyrics and powerful voices of Joe Bigelow, and Dean Linnard.
This story was so good, and such an experience to watch I do not want to spoil too many moments so that you can catch this any way you can. The context room I attended after the show gave you a look into the time period, crime in Chicago in the first quarter of the 20th century, and the numerous adaptions of the their love story. You were able to take photos in 1920’s garb and talk to the dramaturge.
Here is what’s showing at Luna Stage next month for the season:
New Moon Reading Series at Luna Stage Theatre
Monday, January 11 7:30pm
Chris Marshall has just been cast as George in Mt. Laurel Community Players’ production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He invites Zach, the young, Black actor who’s been cast as Nick, over for a drink to give him some actorly advice – and possibly to kill him. Whatever works. When the production’s Martha and Honey show up uninvited, they find themselves caught in this play about a play (within a play?) tackling deadly issues like race and, perhaps even more dauntingly, community theatre. This ferocious comedy asks questions about how we view stories about race and the not-just-color blindness that many have when trying to talk about it.
The Brother’s Size by Tarrell Alvin Mccraney
February 4- March 6 2016
In the Louisiana bayou, big brother Ogun Size is hardworking and steady. Younger brother Oshoosi is just out of prison and aimless. Elegba, Oshoosi’s old prison-mate, is a mysterious complication. A world that begins in ritual, evolves into a tough and tender drama of what it means to brother and be brothered.
“The greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30 in a generation or more.” – Chicago Tribune.
Directed by Christopher Burris
Talkback Schedule: February 7th and 18th
Tarell Alvin McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays: The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. They have been performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, at a trio of theaters in the Bay Area: Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and Magic Theatre, as well as the Young Vic in London (Olivier Award nomination) and around the world. Other plays include The Breach (Southern Rep, Seattle Rep), Wig Out! (Sundance Theatre Institute, Royal Court, and Vineyard Theatre – GLAAD Award for Outstanding Play), andAmerican Trade (Royal Shakespeare Company/Hampstead Theatre). Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where he is an ensemble member, will produce the world premiere of his commissioned play,Head of Passes in the spring of 2013.
Tarell was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s International Playwright in Residence in 2009-2011, where he co-edited and directed the Young People’s Shakespeare production of Hamletwhich toured throughout the UK and was presented at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. He is the recipient of the prestigious Whiting Award and Steinberg Playwright Award, as well as London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the inaugural New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, and the inaugural Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.
He is a graduate from the New World School of the Arts High School, the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, and the Yale School of Drama. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami.
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