Tarell Alvin McCraney…..
Two Down, One More To Come

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family. ~Anthony Brandt

In The Red and Brown Water The Brothers Size
Marin Theatre Company Magic Theatre
Through October 10, 2010 Though October 17, 2010

“With In the Red and Brown Water – and in all three of The Brother/Sister Plays – you will find a world that is simultaneously old and new, familiar yet distant,” says director Ryan Rilette. “The setting is a housing project on the Louisiana bayou, but the town is invented and the housing project more symbolic than real. The characters are contemporary, but they exhibit characteristics borrowed from the West African gods for whom they are named…..all these elements combine together to create a world that is uniquely Tarell’s own.”

Marin Theatre’s production of this first play in the Brother /Sister Trilogy is indeed unique on every level. Rilette has combined tribal dance, symbolic language, choreographed staging and symbolic speech to create a parable of what human beings of any color think they need to find a modicum of meaning and peace in their lives. “The people who inhabit the world of the trilogy guide the audience, narrating their own thoughts and actions, peppering the dialogue with ‘he said’ and ‘she exits’, both showing and telling the story,” said dramaturge Margot Melcon. “It is as though they want to make sure you see and hear what’s happening, because they know how important it is.”

It is rare to see something on stage that departs from the usual staging, plot line and dramatic curve that has become standard in theater productions today. The Red and Brown Water is more than a play, beyond mere dance and far more textured than simple storytelling. We meet Oya (Lakisha May) whose passion is running… so gifted that she could well become a champion…yet she gives it all up to care for her dying mother. It is this decision that redirects her journey through life into one that is both uncomfortable and ill suited to her personality, her physical make up and the dreams she once had. Shango (Isaiah Johnson) introduces her to sex, a man named for the god of thunder and lightening. He is courageous; a womanizer who captures her heart despite all the warnings from family and friends that he will never be hers alone. She marries Ogun (Ryan Vincent Anderson) who represents the god of iron, a hard-working, loyal man, steady and kind but, sadly, not very exciting. Yet, of all the people on stage this was the character who seemed most real to me.

Oya’s conflicting loyalties are the driving force of this play. Her inability to have children makes her believe she can give Shango nothing of real value and in the surprisingly twisted ending; she does manage to find something she thinks will satisfy him. It is that very something that kills her.

“The ritual onstage is taking these very old stories…and playing them out with new voices, new bodies, set in new and present times,” says the author, Tarell Alvin McCraney. “Hoping to create evenings that make something powerful, something distant, yet present, something else.”

And that is pretty much the sense the audience gets when the play is finished: Something huge and cosmic happened on that stage that relates to each of us …and yet in many ways … it doesn’t. The dance was powerful, the presentation disturbing and strong and the acting wonderful to see and yet…and yet…were those characters people we know? Did they respond to the forces that threatened them in ways we understand? This production is a parable that teaches us about ourselves, a story that shows how each decision we make in life alters the course we take and changes our ultimate destiny. Oya begins as an athlete of great promise and ends as a human sacrifice, unable to come to terms with her own inadequacies and blaming them for not capturing the love she desires.

In contrast, Magic Theatre’s production of The Brothers Size, magnificently directed by Octavio Solis, is immediate, compelling and unforgettable because it is a story that reflects every one of us. Every character is so real, we feel he is us on that stage, agonizing about human loyalties, sexuality, right and wrong. “The Brothers Size wrecked me,” said Loretta Greco, Producing Artistic Director of The Magic. “It dares to speak of things not spoken. The sublime simplicity of the text leaves room for actors to bring their most fearless work and for us to open our muscular hearts and fertile imaginations.”

The cast of this second play in the trilogy are the characters they play. Joshua Elijah Reese is an older Ogun, the steady, kind and reliable man we met in the first play, but Reese gives him strength of character, goodness and moral fiber that simply is not present in The Red and Brown Waters. In The Brothers Size, he is the force that creates a sense of family; that loyalty and need to protect that defines blood relatives and differentiates them from friends. He is a courageous, strong man, the kind we all want to become. He talks of holding his mother’s hand and watching his brother Oshoosi (Tobie Windam) play, knowing he would always be responsible for his well-being because he was the oldest. Windham is the very essence of the devil-may-care baby brother, just out of prison and coming to terms with his homosexuality. He has so absorbed Oshoosi’s persona that when he is admonished by his brother, he radiates the very guilt and defiance that defines his character. We met a much younger Elegba (Jared McNeill) in the first play, a loveable boy who fathers a child while he himself is still in his teens. In this second part of the trilogy, Elegba (Alex Ubokudom) has grown up into a playboy, a fun loving daredevil who successfully lures Oshoosi into a trap that will send him back to prison.

“The situations are as comical as they are lyrical, and every moment we probe yields more insight into family, manhood and brotherhood,” said Director Octavio Solis. “And we are reminded, page-by-page that this work is a love story. A love story between men with larger hearts than they know how to express.”

Indeed the effect of this particular play is so mesmerizing that the 90 minutes the actors are on stage melt into an instant; an instant when we all realize just what family can mean and what it should be to each of us. We ask ourselves if we would be as strong as Ogun and send our own brother away into the unknown, away from our own protective wing because we know it will save him. Do we have the courage to allow the members of our family to become the unique individuals they need to be instead of forcing them into our own mold? “Ogun wants Oshoosi to be this kind of black man and Elegba says, no, you’re like me: you’re this kind of black man,” said Solis. “……The real danger is revealing the truth about each other and about themselves.”

The Brothers Size will break your heart. It will inspire you. It will force you to look at who you are and where your loyalties must lie. Whatever you conclude, you will never forget the impact of this amazing production on the Magic Theatre stage. The direction is a work of art; the acting, cosmic. There is not one wasted movement, not one lost word. You will leave the theater feeling as though you just saw what your own life can really be about and hope that you can live what you have just seen.


Information on both plays and the ACT production coming at
The Red and Brown Water:
The Brothers Size: