From "The Brothers Size"
The Brother/Sister Plays
I know I am still on probation!
I know Og.
I know I was once in prison.
I am out and I am on probation.
I ain’t trying to drive to Fort Knox?
I ain’t about to scale the capital…
I want a ride.
I want to drive out to the bayou…
Maybe take a lady down there…
There's a new play opening at Trustus Theatre on Friday that caught Jasper's attention for a handful of reasons. We know that it's part of the Brother/Sister trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana Bayou exploring Yoruba mythology -- an African belief system, which some claim to be the oldest practiced religion. We saw In the Red and Brown Water last year and were pretty much overwhelmed by this playwright's ability to merge the worlds of the oldest of old Africa, probably what eventually became Nigeria, with something like a new world Louisiana. McCraney's career has been blowing up over the past 7 or 8 years and he is set to be one of the top playwrights around given that he's only 35 years old and everything he touches seems to turn to gold. We'd heard that The Brothers Size was another example of this phenomenon.
We also learned that this unique and promising play is being presented in Trustus Theatre's intimate Side Door Theatre, one of our favorite places to enjoy live theatre in the state. There is an intimacy that comes from being one member of a small audience in a relatively small theatre space with actors who are at full throttle sharing their art, whether the art is theatre, music, dance, whatever. Audiences always (hopefully) become another player in a live performance as they feed back and respond to the energy being offered on stage. (This is why people old and young continue to go to Phish concerts, I finally understand. Yes, there are drugs and herbal pleasures, but the energy itself acts as a drug, as well.) And being in such close communion with both the actors and the other audience members can be a rush and sometimes even a cathartic experience. To say the energy is palpable when you're locked (not really) in the room with a few dozen friends and three intense actors, as you will be in The Brothers Size, is an understatement. Opportunities like this are precious and yet another example of the quiet and unassuming way in which Columbia is an arts nerve center.
Finally, were also were excited to see what new magic Trustus Artistic Director and interim Managing Director Chad Henderson had up his sleeve. We really like Henderson for obvious reasons. (Full disclosure: Henderson is the son-in-law of this writer.) But long before the first flirtation, Henderson, as an artist, had the eye and growing respect of this writer, the Jasper Magazine staff, and pretty much anyone with a discerning eye in the area. In the past few years he has brought us such stellar theatre opportunities as Spring Awakening, Assassins, Next to Normal, Ragtime, and other shows of the kind of quality that make your Columbia, SC ticket price and not having to leave town a bargain. Henderson studied under Robert Richmond at USC, another Columbia treasure. (Richmond spent fourteen years as the Associate Artistic Director of the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and during his tenure there he directed over 50 productions that toured across the US, Off Broadway and Europe.) Richmond's influence on Henderon can be seen in a number of ways, but probably no greater way than in Henderson's confidence in his own ability to take his productions in innovative directions. Henderson looks only for exceptional scripts to which he knows he can add his own signature touches and, in doing so, improve upon an already excellent play. Given that, like McCraney, Henderson is also young, it's safe to say we haven't seen the best of him yet.
That's why we wanted to pin Henderson down on a few questions we had about this extraordinary theatre experience opening on Friday night at Trustus and running through Thursday, October 29th. Here's what we got.
Jasper: This play is a little different from other performances at Trustus in that it is part of a series, right? Can you tell us how The Brothers Size fits in as the second in a three part series of plays?
Henderson: The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy called The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Trustus produced the first part (In the Red and Brown Water) last season, and because it was such a wonderful success we knew we wanted to commit to the whole trilogy. These shows introduce the audience to a pantheon of characters derived from the Orishas of the Yoruban cosmology that are living in the “distant present” and the fictional projects of San Pere, Louisana. The plays are a brilliant mix of poetry, prose, music and movement that explore the universal truths of modern life filtered through a very specific world that the playwright has gifted to the audience and artists who tell his stories. Truly, Mr. McCraney is a voice all his own in modern theatre – and that’s what Trustus is constantly celebrating: the new powerful voices of American Theatre. These scripts are singular due to Mr. McCraney’s writing style that has won many awards over the years. These plays are here and now. Columbia deserves to have this type of fresh and modern theatre at its doorstep, and Trustus is happy to oblige.
The Brothers Size examines the power of family, the fight for survival, the consequence of circumstance, the contradiction of incarceration and freedom, and the deep roots of brotherhood. This production explores human truths through an imaginative production that will leave audiences spellbound – perfect theatrical fare for the Fall.
There are a host of elements that make this production a continuation of this trilogy. The language play is still very present because of Mr. McCraney's style of writing with these plays. The playwright also continues to celebrate the ritual of theatre with his ceremonial proceedings that give The Brother/Sister Plays so much vigor.We get to tune back in with Ogun Size and Elegba, who were characters in the last production. We're introduced to Ogun's brother Oshoosi. Scenic designer Kimi Maeda is bringing the set of the last production into the intimate Trustus Side Door Theatre - audiences will feel like they're exploring the last set they saw as they sit among the houses of San Pere in this production.
But don't worry - if you didn't see In the Red and Brown Water, you can still enjoy The Brothers Size - the story stands on its own legs just fine.
Jasper: You also have a smaller cast than typical and you’re performing in the smaller Side Door Theatre. It sounds like a very intimate experience. Is it, and how so?
Henderson: While the scale of the show is much smaller than the last play, I actually feel like this production feels like a bigger show than the Side Door than our patrons are used to. We're utilizing more sound and lighting equipment than we ever have in the Side Door. There's a broader use of the space with plenty of exciting motion.We're also performing this show in the round. This is nothing new as far as theatre conventions go, but in this circle we're able to become part of the community of San Pere. Much like the traditions of West African dance and drum circles, this circle is a safe place for experience and exploration.
Jasper: Tell us what special gifts or talents each of the three gentlemen in the play bring to this project.
Henderson: Jabar Hankins is undeniably genuine - relatable. Bakari Lebby will charm the pants off of folks even though his character is full of mischief. Chris Jackson is effortless in his struggle. Together, they are a powerhouse ensemble that courageously battle each other every night to gain unity.
Jasper: Do you have a favorite scene or line that we can look for?
Henderson: I'm particularly fond of the 4th scene of Act II where the phrase "You f**ked up!" Is yelled repeatedly. However, each scene is well sculpted by our playwright -Tarell Alvin McCraney. There are surprises around every corner.
Jasper: Without giving anything away, tell us what you think will be the most surprising aspect of The Brothers Size for the audience.
Henderson: I expect the experience of seeing a show in the round in the Side Door will be surprising. This show also gives you plenty of opportunities to engage your imagination. We hope that audiences get a chance to play and use their own creativity as they discover the story of Oshoosi and Ogun. Its truly a rich theatrical experience, and audiences get to live inside of it.