The Mythic Poetry of the Distant Present

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

There's something profoundly disorienting, almost dreamlike, about the world of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney's "The Brothers Size" at the Fountain Theater.

You sense it even before the play begins with a setting of "the distant present." Then there's the brother's names Ogun and Oshoosi that feel more mythic than American.  And the music which seems to bleed from African rhythms into Motown crooning. And the very language of the play itself which keeps you at arms length while it invites you in.

The story, as you begin to decipher it, revolves around two brothers: the recently paroled Oshoosi and his hard and hard working brother Ogun. The program notes tells us that the names come from Yoruban mythology. Oshoosi: the divine hunter; Ogun: the god of iron working. The third character, pulling on these brother's bond, is Elegba: guardian at the crossroads of life and the god of chaos and trickery. The tightrope for both characters and playwright  - is the balancing act between a gritty, urban American present and a mythic, heightened past.

While you pick up that they're somewhere on the bayou, that Ogun is a car mechanic, that Oshoosi is struggling to find freedom - the language, the spoken stage directions, the rhythms have you wondering whether maybe the setting is foreign. This dislocation made all the stronger at the Fountain Theater, where so many of Athol Fugard's South African plays still echo.

Tarell Alvin McCraney fits the category of "hot young playwright." He's a graduate of Yale, a member of Steppenwolf, was a Writer in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company - you get the idea. "The Brothers Size" is part of a trilogy, "The Brother/Sister Plays" that received a much lauded production at the Public Theater back in 2009. Locally, The Fountain produced the first play of the trilogy "In the Red and Brown Water" to raves in 2012. His play "Choir Boy" is the fall slot at the Geffen.

Diving into "The Brothers Size" it's easy to see what's made the playwright so popular. Mr. McCraney taps into that elemental power of myth asking with a fresh voice those essential timeless questions. Here, it's "Are you your brother's keeper?" At it's heart, the drama is the struggle for a young man's soul and a brother's quest for freedom.

While the Fountain production loses its footing at times - there's a lush over-produced sound cue at the top of the show that feels at odds with the shows minimalist style - the thing grounding the world, and the reason to go see it, is for the remarkable performances. While you might have a tough time traversing the play's worlds, the actors embody the characters so completely that you are with them every step of the way. When the story boils down to its essence at the end of an hour and twenty minutes, the passion and brotherly sacrifice transcend myth and become strikingly present.

"The Brothers Size" plays at the Fountain Theater in Hollywood through September 14th.

For info on the show and to join the conversation, check out:

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running Time: One hour and twenty minutes without an intermission.

Banner Image: Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock and Theodore Perkins; Credit: Ed Krieger