West African Spirituality…in Louisiana?
Swine Palace Theatre presents The Brothers Size
By Alison BarkerPosted Mar 21, 2012
Chirping crickets. Bird calls. Heart-thumping instrumental hip-hop loops. Bouncy zydeco accordions. West African drumbeats.
Sounds of life abound in Swine Palace’s upcoming production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s award-winning play, The Brothers Size, in which two brothers navigate the rocky terrain of family belonging and self-determination.
An older brother, hardworking and dependable, promises his dying mother that he will look after his younger brother, a wandering and aimless soul. Sound familiar? Like the tragic works of William Shakespeare and August Wilson, The Brothers Size places age-old contradictions of freedom and obligation and sets them in motion with the help of African gods in a southern Louisiana town.
When director Femi Euba first considered McCraney’s play, he remarked on its complexity – a mechanic and his ex-convict little brother named for West African Yoruban gods? A fictional southern Louisiana bayou town called “San Pere”? Dream sequences? Experimental staging? Euba, the Louise & Kenneth Kinney Professor of Black Drama and Playwriting at LSU, is a Nigerian native and has written extensively on Yoruban religion and culture, both in his plays and his scholarly work. It’s no small compliment, then, that Euba ultimately concluded that McCraney “is well informed on Yoruban gods” and decided to embrace the challenge, as well as the play’s realistic and metaphysical elements.
The Brothers Size is second in McCraney’s trilogy, entitled The Brother/Sister Plays, and has been called “the greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30 in a generation or more” by the Chicago Tribune. According to McCraney, the series centers on the West African idea that all people possess a destiny, and one’s life journey is to grow spiritually in order to align with that destiny.
This will mark the first production of Euba’s tenure that features West African spirituality. Though the brothers are named for Yoruban gods – the mechanic is Ogun, the god of tools and metal, and Oshoosi, the younger brother just home from prison, is named for the god of the hunt and the undertaker of quests; however, this doesn’t mean that audiences should expect an idea-heavy play or a lecture on world religion. “We will have production notes to explain the importance of these and other gods in the play,” Euba notes, but he wants the drama between the brothers to express the importance of self-knowledge and the effort and risk such a quest entails, regardless of the audience members’ religious perspective. “I want this story to have a realistic presence,” he insists.
Speaking of reality, the members of the audience will have the opportunity to listen and share concerns around the play’s topics of social justice, imprisonment, and self-empowerment. Following performances, community leaders will moderate talkback sessions, which are free and open to the public.
The first talkback session will take place on Sunday, March 25 at 3:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre, led by Marco Barker. Barker is assistant to the vice provost and director of educational equity with the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach and co-director of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative (BLMI) Fellows Program. He and a panel of black male students from LSU and Southern University will lead a discussion on black male leadership.
Barker says that the play addresses decision-making, race, gender and institutional systems – all topics that BMLI Fellows explore with the aim of addressing the national call for more engaged black male leaders. The talkback sessions, as well as a community-wide discussion sponsored by the YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge’s Dialogue on Race on Thursday, April 5 at 7pm, marks Swine Palace’s ongoing commitment to program plays that deal with issues important to the Baton Rouge community.
“We believe stories like The Brothers Size will resonate with our community and cause our audiences to examine the real-world impact of institutional systems that don’t treat all members of society equally,” says Kristin Sosnowsky, interim director of the LSU Department of Theatre and managing director of Swine Palace. “Ultimately,” she says, “it is our goal to be a part of positive change in our community.”
The Brothers Size runs from March 21-April 1 at the Studio Theatre, M&DA Building on Dalrymple Rd – LSU (225) 578-3527. The first talkback occurs on Sunday, March 25 at 3:30 p.m. at the Studio Theatre.
For tickets: http://www.swinepalace.org/productions/the-brothers-size/ or call: 225-578-3527.