The Brothers Size features three brilliant actors (Marcus Johnson, Meyne Wyatt and Anthony Taufa), who deliver three flawless performances. Better yet, the performances are delivered with an urge, vigour and vitality rarely encountered. All could give lessons to any number of their peers, who mumble and stumble their way through roles, trying to find characters.

Meanwhile, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s drama is yet another example of a somewhat (pre)ambling, rambling, shambling play, that goes, who knows where, exactly? But it does leave an aftertaste, something on the back-palate that’s undeniable. A feeling, perhaps, which is probably something more remarkable than a mere idea. It certainly goes to notions about brotherly love; blood is thicker than water.

It’s this very viscosity, of course, that can make it so intractable, often creating bad blood. And, in any event, it’s so good to see something from the pen of an African-American writer. I can’t remember the last time we got something from the continental US that stepped outside the palefaced middle-class. There’s a different kind of angst present. It’s not about sundry neuroses, but staying out of jail. Not about imagined or invented problems, but very tangible ones.

This production, directed by Imara Savage, has the energy of the street. Not George Street, on a Friday night (thank God), you understand, but something more in the vicinity of Canal Street, New Orleans. In Miriam Lieberman’s percussive introduction and interludes, one can almost feel the urge of the mighty Mississippi. One can feel the steam, rising from the bayou, a climatic metaphor for the pressure-cooked atmosphere between two brothers and an outsider.

In the carriage, work song of Ogun (Johnson), one can feel the quiet dignity and upright pride of a Robeson. In his kid bro’, Oshooshi, one can painfully relive the struggle of a boy becoming a man, always in the shadow of the elder he reveres. In Elegba, one can feel the vague, dark, insidious, creeping threat of paranoia and evil, always lurking and manifest, here, in the big brotherly form of a suitor, trading sexual favours for protection. It’s a scenario Oshooshi’s trying to forget, but can’t quite escape; one he can’t quite admit to his older brother, or himself.

Of course, that’s not the only thing he, his brother and his ‘kind’ (I’m talking socioeconomic birthright, or lack thereof) can’t escape. They can’t escape the rigours of their background. The tragedy of their childhood. Poverty. Lack of education. Poor food. Or just being poor. Hard yakka (how far have they really travelled from chain gangs)? They can’t escape their brotherhood. But something has to give, some ties have to be broken in order for individuals to remain strong.

The Brothers Size is dense with emotional material, but somewhat less endowed with narrative. It has suspense, power, momentum; urgency, but no real compass. It does have a stout heart, though. Heart enough to tempt us to leave our mind behind, for a while, To set it aside, to leave room for the soul to stir.

Lieberman’s drumming and vocals rekindle calls across the cotton fields. (This, in a tiny Darlinghurst theatre.) Daniella Lacob has interpolated capoeira and limbo into a kind of magical, choreographic voodoo. Johnson, Wyatt and Taufa project so much energy, they could burn a hole through a leaf, or audience member, with their stares. Verity Hampson’s low, murky lighting is in perfect harmony: eyes shine out of the constant night.

There’s a ritualistic, mythological character to it all. It could be an Aesop fable or other morality tale, or something from around an ancient African campfire. It’s nutritious and satisfying; in the way of a good gumbo, perhaps. And these actors could turn Neighbours into Chekov. Try it on. For size.

The details: The Brothers Size plays SBW Stables Theatre until April 17. Tickets on the venue website.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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