"The Brothers Size" is a compact, intense play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana projects. It's three characters - Ogun Size, Oshoosi Size and Elegba - are all named after gods of Yoruba mythology. While their troubles - recovering from time spent in prison, staying afloat, finding love - may at first seem trivial, they soon take on epic ramifications.
Now the theater company is back with "The Brothers Size," with Marion McClinton again in the director's chair. While a couple of critics say the show has a few rough edges, all agree it's an important production that merits seeing.
Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size and James A. Williams as Ogun Size in "The Brothers Size"
Each of the three characters is performed with almost brutal compassion. In every moment of anger, resentment, resignation or discomfort, the skill of the playwright, actors, and director Marion McClinton combine to paint a vivid picture of the forces that shape and entrap each man. Freedom, for these three, is always visible and always elusive: whether hemmed in by physical bars, financial and psychological obligations, or fear of a cold legal system, each character operates in a world with very few options. Even women seem to represent a distant island which has drifted just beyond reach.
James A. Williams as Ogun Size in Pillsbury House Theatre's production of "The Brothers Size"
McClinton's heart-rendingly poetic production has a minimal but efficacious design. Andrea Heilman gives us layered platforms that are used variously for beds and Ogun's shop. The workman's clothes are by Kalere Payton, and the mood-altering lights by Michael Wangen.
Choreographer Patricia Brown harmonized the three actors' movements, which included a stylized high-stepping march and some Temptations-style dancing, while Ahanti Young, hitherto known as a fine interpreter of August Wilson characters, gives "Brothers Size" its rhythmic heartbeat by playing percussion on an elevated drum set.
Gavin Lawrence as Elegba and Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size in "The Brothers Size" by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Director Marion McClinton and the company infuse the show with an intense physicality, while also riding gentler, musical rhythms. Midway through, Oshoosi oversleeps and is forced to walk from home to his brother's shop. His walk turns into a kind of march, aided by percussionist Ahanti Young, as he trudges along in the intense Gulf Coast heat. Decades of personal disappointment play out with each step Smallwood takes, intensified by the chanting and singing of Williams and Lawrence. Hours of dialogue may not have said as much as these brief minutes onstage.
Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size
These strong performances add up formidably in this staging of "The Brothers Size." If the whole production is somewhat less than the sum of those parts, this is still a story -- and a playwright -- that merits attention.
Is the play flawless? No. The speaking-out-loud of stage directions ("Elegba returns", "Ogun goes back under the car") rather quickly became tiresome and the long analysis of Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness" felt over-wrought, off-the-mark and, for me, interfered with the emotional build of the play. Still, The Brothers Size is grim, gritty, inspiring.
'The Brothers Size' runs through September 29 at the Guthrie Theater in the Dowling Studio. Have you seen it? If so, what's your review?
All photos by Michal Daniel
Posted at 12:21 PM on September 12, 2012
by David Cazares
Filed under: Music
Photo by Randy Kramer
When jazz bassist Chris Bates decided to record his first release as a leader, he had a number of things in mind, including styles and elements he wanted to steer clear of.
For his new ensemble Red 5, Bates -- who plays in the Atlantis Quartet and Red Planet -- took pains to avoid a recording of bass solos, the kind of albums other bassists made about 15 years ago.
The group's latest release, "New Hope," does feature the composer and his improvisations prominently. But Bates isn't playing melodies on every song, followed by a solo.
"The bass has a function in the music and I honor that, but I also provide my own voice as a composer," said Bates, whose group performs Friday and Saturday at St. Paul's Artists Quarter. "It's more satisfying to me to tell the story through my compositions rather than through an individual solo."
Instead, Bates surrounded himself with agile musicians who compliment his playing while delivering multi-layered textures on nine sophisticated tracks. They include saxophonists Chris Thomson and Brandon Wozniak, trumpeter Zack Lozier and his brother JT Bates on drums.
After years of providing the big pulse for the groups he plays in, the bassist decided not to include piano or guitar, two instruments that also play chords. That leaves plenty of room for the three horns to weave in and out of the tunes.
It makes for a different listening experience and one that focuses on the potential bass players have to continually transform a song.
"You're not necessarily featured as a soloist," Bates said of the instrument's traditional role. "You might get to play some unison lines with the band, but there's not necessarily that thing that happens [when people] realize, 'oh the bass player's on equal footing with the rest of these guys,' as far as his chops and his ability to improvise or play with different things."
With Red 5, Bates puts the bass in a new light.
My radio piece on Chris Bates' Red 5 airs this week on MPR News 91.1 FM. Stay tuned.
So you've probably seen at least one of the many "Sh*t People Say" videos floating out there. They generally disparage particular groups of people for being clueless. Sometimes the videos seem needlessly cruel, but other times they're a revelation.
For example: check out this video from the folks at Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, highlighting things they hear people say way too often.