Oh, Brother: Part Two of McCraney’s Trilogy

Call it a case of unreasonable expectations. The Brothers Size, now making its West Coast premiere at Magic Theatre, is Part Two in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s much-ballyhooed Brother/Sister trilogy. Part One, In the Red and Brown Water, opened at Marin Theatre Company a few weeks back. We raved about it. We tried to walk into Part Two with as few demands as possible, but we think it’s fair to say that we would’ve enjoyed the play a little more if we hadn’t been so floored by Part One. The two plays are quite different in scope. Part One is an ambitious ensemble piece, while Part Two is a short, relatively conventional drama focused on three characters. Both plays feature a whole lot of smart, lively dialogue, but Part Two doesn’t feel quite as inventive in its storytelling techniques. And in a trilogy that depends heavily on singing to heighten the drama, Part One uses music to far greater effect. Some of these differences may be exaggerated by the presence of two very different directors. While Marin Theatre Company’s Ryan Rilette brought some serious style to his imaginative staging of In the Red and Brown Water, Octavio Solis plays it pretty safe with The Brothers Size. Even the dream sequences feel strangely earthbound. And with different actors playing the same characters, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Magic’s Elegba (Alex Ubokudom) can’t match the fierce energy of Marin Theatre Company’s version of the character (Jared McNeill). Reading this, you may begin to think that The Brothers Size is a bad play. It most certainly is not. McCraney’s material operates at a high level, and Solis’ staging is perfectly competent. If you see the play without the benefit of seeing Part One, you might walk away thinking you’d seen one of the best productions of the season. But considered as part of a full trilogy, I’m calling this a minor step back. Part Three, Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, opens at ACT on October 29.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Oct. 5. Continues through Oct. 17, 2010

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