If you mainly know playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney from the movie “Moonlight” — whose screenplay he co-wrote, based on his autobiographical “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” — “The Brothers Size” is a good introduction to his early theatrical style. The three-man drama bristles with street sense and bends like a willow with its compassion and poetry.
I didn’t buy it when “The Brothers Size” trilogy first hit stages in 2007 and, by 2013, had helped boost McCraney to MacArthur “genius” grant status. With mythologically named characters sometimes voicing their stage directions and inner narration, the plays seemed mannered, and the productions felt groomed to slickness.
José Carrasquillo’s new staging by the Tysons Corner troupe 1st Stage shifts the balance: The style is all there, executed with rough beauty, but it brings you closer to the people. It’s a prodigal son fable, with Ogun Size as a hard-working auto mechanic forever looking out for his trouble-prone younger brother, Oshoosi. Gary-Kayi Fletcher is deeply careworn as Ogun — you see the mileage in his eyes as he gazes at Oshoosi with dread at what disaster is coming next. And Clayton Pelham Jr. beams with bliss each time he gets a whiff of sheer freedom as Oshoosi, who’s on probation after a stint in jail.
The third character is Elegba, who shared time — intimate time — with Oshoosi in jail. Thony Mena plays Elegba with a careless upbeat bop; he’s sweet and dangerous. That fraught combination describes the entire taut 90-minute drama.
Carasquillo leans into the formality of McCraney’s script by creating an unabashedly sacred space around a stone circle at center stage, with what seems like holy water occasionally dripping from above. Designer Giorgos Tsappas keeps this ceremonial ground rooted in the everyday with a huge mound of used tires looming in the background. The setting is Louisiana’s bayou, via Yoruba myths of West Africa.
The actors inhabit this high-low duality with impressive ease. As the characters cope with latent homophobia, blatantly racist cops and their own messy choices, the speeches can be as lofty and as earthy as Shakespeare or Sam Shepard. A long monologue by Pelham’s Oshoosi late in the play is especially spellbinding, and beautifully illuminated by William K. D’Eugenio’s low light and Sarah O’Halloran’s subtle cinematic sound design. McCraney’s next act is Steven Soderbergh’s new fictional NBA lockout movie, “High Flying Bird,” but if “Moonlight” is your reference, this intensely controlled, tough-yet-delicate tone will seem familiar, and right.
The Brothers Size, by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Jose Carrasquillo. Costumes, Moyenda Kulemeka. About 90 minutes. Through Feb. 24 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., Tysons Corner. $39. 703-854-1856. 1ststagetysons.org.