ORLANDO — From the start, Ogun Size keeps approaching his younger brother Oshoosi with a look of weariness, a quiet expectation that since the day has started, it’s probably only a matter of time before Oshoosi messes up somehow. The only question is how big of a mess Ogun will be stuck cleaning up.
There’s a great deal of complexity in the relationship between the two brothers, although at the same time, how they relate to one another seems instantly familiar and recognizable to any of us. Ogun, who runs his own auto repair shop, is the brother who is responsible, hard-working, doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and has every reason to think he should hold others — his brother included — to the same expectations.
Oshoosi is a different situation entirely. Just out of prison, he complains loudly when his brother pushes him to get up early, look for work — you know, the responsibility, get-your-life-together thing.
Although Ogun is steady and consistent in his patterns and demeanor, it’s a testament to the talent of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney that his play “The Brothers Size” nevertheless lets Ogun assume a wide variety of roles that expand beyond big brother. Sometimes he acts like a nagging mama. Sometimes he’s the stern father, unwilling to tolerate laziness. Sometimes he even takes on the role of prison guard or corrections supervisor, trying to set goals and direction for his young charge, while always casting a look in the corner of his eye suggesting he’s deeply skeptical that the inmate will ever meet expectations.
“The Brothers Size,” now being produced at Mad Cow Theatre in downtown Orlando, is an intense, and often intensely moving, look at the ties between two brothers confronting very difficult situations, and even more challenging choices in their lives.
It’s also a very funny play at times. Set in the Louisiana bayou, Ogun is initially slightly hopeful that his hard work and steady manner will rub off on Oshoosi, who repeatedly treats his older brother more like a cranky father who needs to get off his back. Ogun worries that his brother is aimless, but can’t quite figure out the best method for getting him to change. To be stern? Encouraging? It’s not easy.
But the picture gets considerably more complicated when Elegba, who served time in prison with Oshoosi, shows up at the auto shop. Elegba has a car, but his license has been suspended, so he offers to give his old buddy Oshoosi his vehicle to use. Oshoosi, suddenly in possession of a set of wheels, is ecstatic. But Ogun is deeply suspicious of Elegba’s motives. As it turns out, he has good reason to be.
As “The Brothers Size” moves toward a downbeat but deeply moving ending, one of the great joys of this play was watching the tough, no-nonsense-here Ogun open up about his feelings, revealing what he’s been struggling to keep covered up across his steely exterior: just how much affection he has for the younger brother, the kid who always seemed to get into trouble, and yet was the boy he would have done anything for. And that presents us with one of the play’s greatest mysteries: how do you help someone when the things you feel they need the most can be the most difficult decisions of all.
There’s a radiant joy in the scene where Ogun encourages his younger brother to do what he feels he does best: sing some classic R&B songs. The play also has an absolutely hilarious scene where the three men joke about their encounter with local police, and play off the stereotypes associated with young black men.
Mad Cow’s version, done without sets, soars to potent emotional heights thanks to the superb acting. Jim Braswell is a marvel as he tackles the wide range of complex emotions in Ogun, and Stelson Telford matches him as the bad boy Oshoosi. There’s not a single false note in their performances of two very complicated characters.
“The Brothers Size” is being performed at the theater at 54 W. Church St. and runs through Sunday. Performances are at 8 p.m. and the show runs for 95 minutes without intermission. This is definitely a must-see production.
To learn more, call the box office at 407-297-8788.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..