The second half of “The Brother/Sister Plays” trilogy has opened at McCarter Theater and the promise that playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney showed a few weeks ago has been confirmed and expanded. Here indeed is a new and vital new voice for American theater — daringly fresh, yet rooted in the classics; raw and brutal, yet exquisitely grounded in love.
It is not necessarily a voice that will please everyone. If you enjoy sitting back and letting the playwright’s words wash over you in a gentle, warm stream, you will be disappointed. McCraney expects, no demands, that his audiences not only listen, but react. If you expect simple, expository speeches, you seldom be satisfied. His characters stubbornly refuse to finish sentences — or thoughts. He uses character names more suited to the Caribbean than to America and his street vernacular would occasionally make David Mamet blush.
Some may also question his insistence that stage directions are spoken as well as performed, even if there is startling insight into humor and pathos with those directions. This is a young writer (he is only 28) who has already mastered every theatrical trick from the Greeks to the present and uses them without shame, with extraordinary prowess.
In “The Brothers Size” which opens part II of the trilogy, we are introduced to Ogun Size, the elder brother, hard-working, a mechanic in whose one-man garage the play takes place. And his brother, Oshoosi, more flamboyant, just out of prison, but still apparently in trouble with the law. The two are nephews of Aunt Elegua whom we met in part I and will again in the third play.
There is a third character in the play, Elegba, slightly mysterious, slightly disreputable and slightly disturbing to both brothers. Director Robert O’Hara (who also directed the third play) stages this 58-minute drama with timing that will excite those who note such things and a taste for humor that finds laughs in human failings.
In the second half of the evening, “Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet,” we will again meet the Size brothers, but years later. And we will meet Elegba’s son, the Marcus of the title. (Naturally enough Marcus is played by Alano Miller who played Elegba and Marc Damon Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry will again play the brothers. But the situation is entirely different and we look at life from an entirely different perspective. Marcus is clearly searching for gender approval and the various ladies of the piece — Heather Alicia Simms, as Oba, his mother; Kianne Muschett; Nikiya Mathis; and Kimberly Hebert Gregory — are only too happy to offer advice. Once again, playwright McCraney suggests the time as “the distant present.”
Plenty of surprises along the way: at any given point, any character may break into song. In fact, we even have a mini-American Idol moment with a hanging light bulb as a microphone and a car hood as a platform. The staging may remind you of a child’s kaleidoscope, with constantly changing and shifting patterns and colors (credit costume designer Karen Perry.) But, above all, outstanding company, superb direction and all, playwright McCraney is a sizzling new talent for the American theater.
The Brother/Sister Plays, in repertory at McCarter Theater until Sunday, June 21, at which time they will move to the Public Theater for an Off-Broadway run. 609-258-2787 or www.mccarter.org.