The Brothers Size and Marcus; Or The Secret Of Sweet by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Company One, Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 11/10/11-12/3/11, In repertory with In The Red And Brown Water, http://www.companyone.org/Season13/Brother_Sister_Plays/synopsis.shtml. Contains strong sexual content and some graphic language.
Reviewed by Anthony Geehan
(Boston, MA) It was once said by the great American musician Miles Davis, “it’s not the notes you play; it’s the ones you don’t play.” While he was using the phrase to sum up the art of preforming jazz music, the saying resonates a sort of “less is more” mentality that is palpable to every form of art. From the Hemingway’s seven word classic “Baby Shoes” to sculptor Tony Smith’s famous block works, minimalism can be both a necessity when resources are scarce and an inspiring self-induced boundary to work within. In the world of theatre, its idea has been stretched from one man plays and single set pieces to improvised comedy and flash mob acts. Possibly one of the best examples of minimalism in theater today can be found in Tarell McCraney’s The Brother/Sisters Plays, a trilogy spanning the story of three separate generations living in the bayous of Louisiana, all told with minimal set pieces and eight actors playing characters in three separate moments in time connected through kin. While part one of the trilogy In The Red and Brown Water is a full length play, parts two and three, The Brother Size and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet are shorter works, shown in tandem in order to wrap up the series arc.
Part two of the Brother/Sister Plays, entitled The Brothers Size, follows the story of Ogun (Johnnie McQuarley) and Oshoosi (James Milord) Size, two brothers who grew up in the bayous and where raised by their Aunt Elegua (Juanita Rodrigues) after their mother’s untimely passing. While Ogun, the older of the two brothers, runs a somewhat successful auto repair shop in the town, Oshoosi is a recently released convict who must work in his brother’s shop in order to stay on good terms with his probation officer. While Ogun attempts to keep his brother on the straight and narrow path, Oshoosi’s friend Elegba (Hampton Fluker), a man who shared a cell with Oshoosi in prison, is constantly urging him to reclaim the freedom that he longed for while in prison. Through a series of hot summer days, the three characters live out a story of loyalty, betrayal, and love laced heavily with biblical reference, southern soul, and heavy undertones of both doom and redemption.
Meanwhile, the final chapter of the trilogy Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet takes place two decades later and follows Elegba’s son Marcus (Fluker) coming to terms with his homosexuality and the fact that he never had a father in, being that Elegba died years earlier for unexplained reasons. The play mainly focuses on the reactions of the old fashion black community and their slightly skewed viewed on homosexuals (which they refer to as “sweets”). With the help of his friends Osha (Natalia Naman) and Shaunta (Miranda Craigwell), along with the guidance of his mother Shun (Michelle Dowd) and the local old mystic Elgua (aunt of Oshoosi and Ogun) Marcus begins comes to terms with his queerness and a disturbing vision that he has every night of a man he’s never met standing in the rain delving bad omens.
The presentation of both plays are great experiments in both the visual aspects and dialogue of minimalist theater. While the plays span three generations of family, friends, and lovers within the same town, only eight actors play every role, having actors play younger and older versions of their constant characters as well as having them play both parents and children of families depending on the play. Showing the most versatility in this aspect of the play is Fluker, playing both a twenty something year old ex-con as well as a sixteen year old developing boy. Both roles Fluker is able to pull off flawlessly with the use of nothing more than a slight costume change and his almost polar opposite demeanors. McQuarley also gets to show his range by playing Ogun in both his wise but angry youth and his more dignified, quiet older age.
Visually, both plays are stripped down to a single stage with nothing more than a plain wooden background and a few props to indicate different locations. The minimalist approach is especially apparent in The Brothers Size, where all three actors remain on stage throughout the play, with whoever is not in the scene sitting in the background in a shadow. The dialogue in the play also includes the actor’s stage directions, with actors announcing what they are doing in order to fill in the blanks where props would be used. While this may seem like a cheap ploy on paper, it in fact adds an interesting kind of poetry to the dialogue, allowing character’s emotions to be woven into the directions through both voice and action.
If there are any problems with these two plays, it is simply that watching two complete stories back to back can become a bit of an endurance trial. Even though both are less than 45 minutes apiece, the emotional impact of The Brothers Size’s climax is so engrossing; it is somewhat hard to shake the feeling of conclusion when Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet begins. This issue is helped though by the complete shift of attitude that Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet brings after The Brothers Size. While The Brothers Size is a heavy hitting look at responsibility, freedom, oppression, and what it means to love someone, Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet remains mostly a light hearted satire of people’s reactions to homosexuality. It should also be stated that while the plays are two very different entities, they do play into each other in a very direct way that requires both stories truly feel completed.
The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy is a fantastic showing of theater, possibly one of the best to come to Boston on both the high budget and economy priced production scales. It works off of the actors and script so purely that there is no need for anything else to help it along. Anyone who is a fan of stories ranging from The Indian Runner and East of Eden to Catcher in The Rye and Sula will find both The Brothers Size and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet to be fantastic experiences.