Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ubuntu Theater Project's The Brothers Size

Deleon Dallas’s Ogun Size hugs his brother
Terrance White’s Oshoosi Size

The Brothers Size, by Tarell Alvin McCraney @  Ubuntu Theatre
A review by Wanda Sabir

Ubuntu Theater’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size is simply phenomenal. Let’s start by saying this theatre company which has distinguished itself with a remarkable three summer tenure is amazing when you learn that the directors and most of the cast are students or alumni of the University of California, San Diego, that is, seeped in academia the rest of the year—Lucky for Bay Area theatre lovers, Ubuntu is their practicum for a few months each summer.

Wednesday evening, my friend and I are driving down San Pablo looking for a garage, as in repair shop. This is where The Brothers Size is staged. I am looking, pass the garage and have to turn around. When we pull up we see a sign, and three actors walk by us. We hurriedly close the car doors and follow the cast into the rear of the shop where there are folding chairs for the audience; the seat of a vehicle which doubles as Oshoosi’s bed, complete with a teddy bear, is in front of us along with cars in various stages of repair. We learn later that Oshoosi believes in Santa Claus. You have to love a man who admits this at twenty-one. 

Big brother, Ogun Size works on cars. It’s his gift.  He and iron get along well. The ore speak to him and he can make engines purr and horns sing basslines. He’s happy his kid brother is back from a stint in prison. Like all families of incarcerated persons, he suffered and felt the bars surrounded him just like his brother. When Oshoosi walked back into his brother’s arms, both experienced freedom.

Oshoosi is the talkative brother. Ogun is annoyed and happy to hear the chatter. Cars and metal don’t fill the space like another human being does. Handsome, yet practical, Ogun has been taking care of Oshoosi for most of his life, at least since their mother died and their Aunt Ellegua reluctantly took the boys in. They laugh about it as adults, but one can see the pain, loneliness and abandonment the two experienced as children.

Actor, Deleon Dallas’s Ogun Size is a man of few words but with a large heart, while Terrance White’s Oshoosi Size has a youthful exuberance that is contagious.  We can see in Ogun’s eyes pride in his little brother who has big dreams and the intelligence to succeed in whatever he puts his mind too. As he listens to his brother speak about his dreams of travel and college, he worries about Oshoosi, what he attracts and what he can’t see in others whom attach themselves to his good nature like lint or cockleburs. Elegba (actor William H.P.), a man he met in prison is like this. Ogun tells his brother, “you don’t meet friends in prison,” yet Oshoosi doesn’t understand what his elder brother means until it’s too late. 

William H.P.’s Elegba in center
This is a story about black gods who are reduced to playing out their huge lives on a stage drafted by their magnificence. Even William H.P.’s Elegba is larger than the town which threatens the dignity of every black resident. The one policeman, a black man, sees as his duty one of humiliation towards every black citizen. That Elegba works at a funeral home, could foreshadow the death sentence lingering in the shadows.

Brothers Size have each other. Elegba seems an outsider. He latches onto Oshoosi like a puppy eager for a home. The home he knows best is prison, while Oshoosi is free and does not plan to return. There is a subtle conditioning we see in Elegba’s aura, absent in his friend’s. It is Ogun who holds the space for his brother, even after he gets too old for lullabies, to feel freedom. Ogun tries to give his brother space to live his life and make his mistakes, but Oshoosi doesn’t have the luxury of living and learning. No black man does. One mistake and the living is gone. Lessons are costly for the Size brothers.

Ogun is practical. He loves Oya , but knows he cannot compete when she turns her gaze towards Shango. Shango is a player; he also has Oshun.  The god of iron and war, the goddess of the winds and rains, hurricanes, storms; the goddess of beauty and love . . . meet at the crossroads (Elegba). Choices have to be made. What will be the outcome for the Size men?

Directed by Keith Wallace, with Stephanie Ann Johnson’s lighting design, Steve Leffue’s sound design, Mary Hill’s set and Candance Thomas’s vocal couching and directing, the weather Wednesday evening was lighting with occasional sprinkles. The drama enhanced the production, especially when the men sang the prologue, then again when Oshoosi and Elegba danced – it was more deceptive. An Elegba kept entangling Oshoosi who was finding it harder and harder to escape the widening net–

Ogun dreams as they dance, then wakes to a premonition he cannot articulate.

There are many moments like this, where time stands still – dark moments, moments where the humidity moans and mosquitos buzz and bite.  Sitting with an umbrella up in the second row worked out pretty well since there was no on behind us. I was amazed that Ubuntu theatre (for this production) is in an auto garage and yes, it was cold.

Bring a blanket and wear a coat. Bring a hot beverage in a thermos too.  Ubuntu co-founder, Colin Blattel and his mother traveled by car from Oakland to Albany or further on San Pablo Avenue looking for a garage to sponsor the play. The shops were not clamoring to say yes, but I would certainly support a shop that supports Ubuntu Theatre. The neighbors called the police multiple times during the first few days, requiring the theatre to get permits and still the neighbors didn’t check out the theatre and the performance. Perhaps they will before the show closes Wednesday-Saturday, August 19-22.

The Brothers Size is the new premiere this season. Grounded and Waiting for Lefty are back. Crying Holy opened the season. Again site specific, George Brant’s play, “Grounded” is at the Oakland Aviation Museum, 8252 Earhart Road, Oakland for one week, closing August 15, 8 p.m., and Clifford Odet’s Waiting for Lefty is at Classic Cars West, 411 26th Street, September 3-12, Wednesday-Sunday. I don’t see that Maya is being performed this year. There is no show, Sept. 11. For all the details visit

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