A Sizeable Effort

Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company’s newest production, “The Brothers Size,” balances humor and poignancy.

Spencer Doar

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second Street, Minneapolis

When: Sept. 7 through Sept. 29

Cost: $13-$25 for students

 

When loved ones find themselves in trouble of their own making, the emotional turbulence can manifest itself a number of ways: anger, frustration, jealousy.

Maintaining one’s brotherhood in the face of such a screwup is the focus of “The Brothers Size,” now playing at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.

The play follows two brothers, Ogun (James A. Williams) and Oshoosi Size (Namir Smallwood). Oshoosi has recently gotten out of prison and must reckon with the desolate situation of many ex-convicts: difficulty finding employment, the disappointment of their family and the ease at which one can fall back into old habits.

Elegba (Gavin Lawrence), Oshoosi’s old prison mate, and a bad influence in the eyes of Ogun, adds to this conflict.

Ahanti Young’s drumming is a boon to the format. Covering sound effects and interludes during scene changes, Young and his eclectic kit of Afro-Latin percussion set the scene to a dream-like state and then shift to a throbbing hip-hop beat in the blink of an eye.

A minimalist set, the three-person cast and the intimacy of the Dowling Studio allow the play to stand alone in its full emotive splendor.

The power lies in the writing’s refusal to directly broach the topics that permeate the play. This effect is aided by the frequency, as in life, in which humor surfaces through pain. That’s not to say that “The Brothers Size” is anything but a drama. The laughs come at the right time. When the play seems to be moments away from dragging its heels through the muck of over-analyzed depression, levity jumps in.

This eases the audience into the thematic elements rather than throwing them into the audience’s face right off the bat. For example, Oshoosi and Elegba’s homosexual prison relationship is a source of latent tension throughout the play, while never explicitly stated.

But that is the point. An ex-convict’s reticence at revealing the full scope of his experiences in lockup is the reality of the situation. Oshoosi is constantly butting heads with Ogun over Ogun’s constant reminders that Oshoosi was in prison. Oshoosi is trying to move on but cannot escape his mistakes. This leads him into a slow downward spiral, starting with a questionably obtained car and ending with the unfortunate possession of a bag of white powder.

The most amusing and moving part of the play comes when Ogun and Oshoosi start singing along to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” only to have the mood immediately shift when Elegba is seen through the window, reminding Oshoosi of his quandary. That marks the end of innocence for the entire cast.

Well-acted by an accomplished cast, well-written by a prolific playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and altogether well-done, “The Brothers Size” lays a solid foundation that steadily builds to a climax of severe, but nonetheless believable, proportions.