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The Brothers Size
by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Liverpool Everyman October 2007

It’s amazing how exciting theatre can be with just lines drawn on the floor, good lighting   a few props and fine acting. But the Brothers Size at the Everyman was just that.

  The strength of the play is in the clever writing and this is all down to emerging talent Tarell Alvin Craney, who graduated from the Yale School of Drama's playwriting programme just last May and has already won awards for his work.

Image: Promotional image for 'The Brothers Size'.

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website

McCraney’s play is set in the Deep South in modern-day Louisiana, where law for the blacks is often different from the reality of law for whites. His play is based on old African Yoruba myth, where Olorun, and the Orishas, and the Ẹgba communities play out their story. Although this is probably not apparent to British audiences, there are echoes of these myths in the names of the characters.

Ogun Size, runs his own auto-repair shop for which he has worked hard to establish. However, his younger brother, Oshoosi Size, has taken a different path and ending up in prison for stealing money from an offertory box. In prison. he befriends Elegba , who makes up the third part of this three-hander.

All are in their 20s, full of energy, anger, and self-belief. Their youthful angst and energy is fully demonstrated in the pacey delivery, without an interval, which would have tested lesser actors.

Ogun (Nyasha Hatendi) tries to get his lazy brother Oshoosi (Obi Abili) to work, but Oshoosi would rather laze about and take things easy. And his bone-idle attitude is not helped by ex-cell mate Elegba (Nathaniel Martello-White) who keeps a-comin’ by exacerbating the problem. However, he does have a job – though it is ‘working with dead people’.

The ex-cons are set on finding a car and taking off to Mexico. This reflects their prison-bound aspirations, but Oshoosi’s dreams, now he is released, disturb him nightly. Clever stage direction and lighting (Bijan Sheibani/Mike Gunning) create large shadows of the actors on the auditorium walls as his nightmares are acted out in slow motion on a darkened stage. Although free he cannot escape himself.

The light touch of the first half soon darkens and we learn that Oshoosi is not just lazy, but tired. Prison has affected him more than is apparent. Ogun also starts having nightmares, guilt that he did not visit his brother when ‘inside’. And then Elegba turns up with a beat-up car that Ogun helps fix. Out on the town the two friends are caught by Police with a bag full of drugs is found in the back. Elegba is arrested, Oshoosi though innocent, escapes. His brother takes him in and urges him to go on the run come morning, offering  the garage’s truck and a wad of money.

The brotherly bond is tighter than either of them first realized.

What this play reiterates is the oppression of blacks and how they learn to kow-tow to authority, black or white and that the universal term ‘brother’ means that they must watch out for each other, for if they don’t, who will.

The ‘N’ word is often used, true to the play’s locale and demographic, giving the dialogue an earthy authenticity as the audience is easily transported to Louisiana and the desperation of the protagonists. The mood of the play is enhanced by intermittent soft African drumming by Manuel Pinheiro downstage. Though the ending is inconclusive McCraney’s deftly woven message of the plight of the poor black is unremittingly powerful.

Jeanette Smith

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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