‘The Brothers Size’ will heat up the stage at the Old Globe

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

One of the hottest names in theater these days is playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a graduate of Yale School of Drama, member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, resident playwright at New York’s New Dramatists and London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, and a multiple award-winner on both sides of the Atlantic. Now “The Brothers Size,” for which he won the first New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, is coming to the Old Globe Theatre January 26.

Originally staged at Yale, where the playwright, director Tea Alagić, and actor Gilbert Owuor were at school together, the play had its New York premiere in 2007, at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Part of McCraney’s “Brothers/Sisters” trilogy, three passionate, poetic pieces set in Louisiana’s bayou country that all started out at Yale, it has since been performed at theaters around the world. This will be its first showing in Southern California.

Pulsing to the beat of African drums, “The Brothers Size” is about two brothers who are opposites in nature: the older one, Ogun, is the hardworking owner of an auto-repair shop, while the younger, Oshoosi, a newly-released ex-con, is a carefree drifter about to be shaken up by a visit from an old prison friend. The characters are contemporary, but they’re informed by West African mythology, with names derived from Yoruban deities: Ogun, god of iron and metalwork; Oshoosi, a hunter-god and solitary seeker; and Elegba, god of mischief.

Gilbert Owuor, who originated the part of Ogun at Yale, and played it in New York and Washington D.C., is no stranger to “The Brothers Size.” But this time, he’s performing with different actors.

“That changes everything,” he said. “I have to step away from the world I was used to and approach the play in reference to the new actors, as if it were the first time. I have to ask new questions, try to find new things—it’s amazing how, with good writing, you can endlessly find new things. It’s very exciting and refreshing.”

Director Tea Alagic’s style is exciting too. “I had the pleasure of working with her at Yale, doing everything from Brecht to Shakespeare to Tarrell McCraney,” Owuor said. “She’s very much about the manifestation of character through physicality, encouraging actors to truly embody their roles.”

Part of the play is stylized movement, both athletic and dance-like, and the ever-present drumming. “It elevates everything to a different dimension,” Owuor said. “Our words are contemporary, but the music creates a sense of awesome power underneath. The drums are really another element, the African side, the side of worship and transcendence.”

Composer/percussionist Jonathan Melville Pratt first worked with the play’s original cast in New York. Now, at the Globe, he too is making changes, rewriting the score to fit the new trio of actors.

“The Brothers Size” is an unusual play about family, and what we do for those who are most important to us.

“Bring someone you love to watch the play with you,” Owuor suggested. “If you have a brother, come with him.”