“Ogun enters.” “Oshooshi smiles innocently.” “Elegba exits the way he came.”
As the characters in “The Brothers Size,” which is currently playing at Luna Stage in West Orange, act out the story, they also read the stage directions. It’s a simple but surprisingly effective trick, adding a sense of fated inevitability to their actions. The subtext is that this is someone else’s story: They’re just doing what they’re told.
It works so well because “The Brothers Size” — written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and first performed, in 2007, to much acclaim — has mythological, biblical aspects to it, in the first place.
The characters — hard-working garage owner Ogun (Brandon Carter), his troubled, feckless brother Oshooshi (Shamsuddin Abdul-Hamid) and Oshooshi’s amiable but also somewhat sinister friend Elegba (Clinton Lowe) — take their names from Yoruban folk tales, and their story is a simple, timeless one about temptation, brotherly rivalry and, ultimately, brotherly love.
In the program, the time of the play is described, mysteriously, as “Distant Present.” Yes, they’re hanging out in Ogun’s cold, gray garage (there’s something really sad about the stacks of old tires that are everywhere) and using modern slang (and, in the case of Oshooshi, letting his pants hand so low that his underwear is visible), and suffering from a brand of racism that seems very 21st century. But there’s a ritual-like aspect to their dialogue and their movements, and they occasionally break out into mesmerizing song or pound out hypnotic percussion.
Even the actors’ soliloquies have a beguiling, musical quality, and there’s a magical quality to the characters’ everyday tasks, since they’re able to turn lights on and off with simple hand gestures.
It’s no easy task to make an old play feel modern. But it’s even harder to make a new play feel ancient, and few have been able to do this as well as McCraney does with “The Brothers Size.”
“The Brothers Size” is at Luna Stage through March 6; visit lunastage.org.