“The World is Round and Nothing is Black and White”

The Brothers Size evokes the vast realm of mythology in an ostensibly simple tale.

by Quinton Skinner I Director of Communications, Guthrie Theater
Return to The Brothers Size play page on the Guthrie website / Return to Guthrie’s Essays page

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, a Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company co-production in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, is a bold, stark play about a pair of brothers–one just out of prison, the other the owner of a car repair shop–that touches on race and sexuality with an otherworldly and at times mythic tone. McCraney, one of the most exciting young playwrights in America today, described it in an email exchange.

“The play describes the world as the distant Present,” writes McCraney, when asked about the world his characters inhabit. “All stories are told, and always live slightly in the past. Thus they begin once upon a time.”

When the brothers Ogun and Oshoosi Size are joined by Elegba, whom Oshoosi knew in prison, the equilibrium of their world begins to teeter.

“The play has a sense of something being recreated. But the characters have nothing but possibility in front of them,” McCraney adds. “Where will Oshoosi go? Will he ever have freedom? Where is Elegba? Where does he come from and what is he up to? Ogun is building and working hard for what?”

McCraney’s work on The Brothers Size was influenced by Yoruba mythology, a way of viewing life and the universe that differs in vital ways from Western thought.

“It is a cosmology of West African origins that found its way into the American idiom first via the slave trade …” McCraney writes. “This cosmology does not draw direct lines of ‘good and evil.’ The world is round and nothing is black and white. All gods can do you charity or set you at a disadvantage.”

And here is the power of The Brothers Size: the feel of the vast realm of mythology in a story about individuals whose lives might go largely unnoticed, and that audiences can discover that an ostensibly small tale can carry the weight of centuries of passion and struggle.

“Audiences will feel many ways. My job is to invite them into the world as best I can,” concludes McCraney. Through rhythm language music dance. The play is always asking for the audience to invest. Thus the actors via stage directions are always asking the audience: ‘Do you see this? Can you watch this? Here’s something interesting, I will underline it for you.'”

McCraney’s story, once told, will indeed inspire audiences to invest their attention and emotion–just don’t expect easy answers. “Trying to describe things,” McCraney adds, “may get you into trouble.”

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