REVIEW: Powerhouse performances in 'The Brothers Size'
By Audrey Wells
Outstanding performances by three recent University of Illinois alumni mark a special homecoming and inaugural project for Illinois Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Produced in conjunction with the Definition Theatre Company and directed by Kathleen F. Conlin, a UI professor of theatre, "The Brothers Size" receives loving attention in this production. Written by young award-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, the play launches the New Voices in Theatre project.
Three male characters tell a multifaceted but not unfamiliar story. The characters' names, in a literary touch, correspond to mythic figures in Yoruban folklore, but the story is American.
Ogun (the Willful) is the older brother who has started his own car repair business. His younger brother, Oshoosi (the wanderer), having recently been released after two years of incarceration, is home but lost and confused. Elegba (the trickster), his friend, grew close with Oshoosi while they were both in prison and wants his attention.
"The Brothers Size" is set in the Bayou but could also be urban given the circumstances. And while the play has poetry to it, characters speak in a vernacular that includes language we flinch from if we are not used to it.
From the precision opening to the palpably emotional ending, the production grabs attention, the actors entrain and the audience is carried along through this drama, peering in from one of four sides, in the box-shaped Studio Theatre.
The play spools out in short scenes, some of them dreams with stylized movement. Minimal and portable set pieces, wooden crates with handles and a few small props help the actors keep the action fluid.
The square stage, with a hot spot in the center, suggestive of a boxing ring, or maybe a jail cell, benefits from Michelle E. Benda's lighting design. And Joshua Wilcox's sound design gracefully guides the transitions between scenes and through dreams.
The play has an experimental story-telling component — the actors speak their own stage directions in third person — but some scenes create tremendous intimacy between the characters. At times, I thought these actors are so engaged, this play would carry on even if there were no audience.
The vibrant performance of Julian Parker as Oshoosi, the confused younger brother, takes center stage. Both agitated and cool, Parker keeps the play churning. Tyrone Phillips in the role of Ogun, the older brother, plays with accuracy his character's taut determination, social ill-ease and paternal-like caring. In the role of Elegba, Mercedes White delivers her speeches with exacting musicality. Her character is at once alluring and hesitant. All three actors deliver powerhouse performances.
If you go
What: Illinois Theatre and the Definition Theatre Company of Chicago present "The Brothers Size," part of a trilogy of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney
When: 7:30 p.m. today through Sunday, and June 4-7.
Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U.
Tickets: $20 for adults and $10 for University of Illinois students and youths.
Information: 333-6280 and krannertcenter.com
Audrey Wells is a freelance writer from Urbana.