The Brother/Sister Plays
The stories, characters, and themes that interlace in Tarell McCraney’s groundbreaking trilogy
By Joanna Horowitz

Eddie R. Brown III, Yaegel T. Welch, and Warner Miller in The Brothers Size. Photo by Keri Kellerman.

"McCraney's lush and gorgeous triptych—surely the greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30 in a generation or more—smolders. And similarly poetic, arresting, startling lines pop and bubble like the waters of the bayou around which McCraney sets his remarkable plays about the ordinary people of Louisiana—loving, dying, escaping, trying, failing, caring."
—Chicago Tribune

Inspired by playwright Tarell McCraney's interest in Yoruban mythology and his own childhood growing up in housing projects in Miami, The Brother/Sister Plays is a trilogy of works that have earned McCraney a reputation as one of the most exciting playwrights in a new generation.

The Brothers Size is the second play in that trilogy. And while the plays stand alone—you don’t need any knowledge of the first (In the Red and Brown Water) or third (Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet) to enjoy The Brothers Size—they exist in the same world.

The three plays are all set in what McCraney calls "the distant present," in the fictional Louisiana bayou town of San Pere. They share many themes, similar theatrical conventions (speaking some stage directions aloud), and characters. Yoruban mythology is woven in, and dreams seep into waking life. But the tone and intention varies between the three.

"In The Brothers Size I was trying to explore rhythms, drum-like, but in the voice. In In the Red and Brown Water I begin exploring the mixing of two stories from two different cultures—Yerma and Oba—and how they mix, and essentially how those mixtures are what make up the people in Cuba and the Spanish Caribbean, African and European Spanish," said McCraney.

"And in Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet I explored what the absence of those direct links feels like in African-Americans today. I haven't proved or unproved anything. Just exploring and using what I know of my life in the South in the swampy areas of the Everglades and Homestead, FL."

The Plays

"The three plays don't line up in a neat, linear way. They're less in a perfect chronology than they are 'in conversation' with each other. They reflect on each other, echo, contradict, remind. They give a sense of time—time bending and passing through generations, a community, a culture. In strict chronological time, Red and Brown Water comes first, The Brothers Size second, and Marcus third. Yet the plays can be experienced singly or in a different order, for Tarell is not telling a dry history of a community as much as he’s inviting us to share in its experience and dreams.”
—Tina Landau, who directed all three plays at Steppenwolf Theatre in 2010.

In the Red and Brown Water
Oya, a promising young track star, has to choose between her dreams of escape and the reality of caring for her dying mother. She's also torn between two very different men: the one she "should" be with, Ogun Size, and the one she's passionately drawn to, the soldier Shango. Tina Landau, who directed all three plays at Steppenwolf in 2010, said it is "best described as a theatrical poem...part story, part dance piece, part song. Tarell wrote the play in what he described as a 'dream state' (jet-lagged, with insomnia, etc.)."

The Brothers Size
Ooshosi Size, a wandering soul recently released from prison, clashes with his straight-and-narrow mechanic brother, Ogun. Yet even as they grapple with their own notions of freedom and tradition, they remain fiercely intertwined. The play was written while Tarell was still in school at Yale, and it has a more grounded narrative than In the Red and Brown Water.

Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet
Days before Hurricane Katrina, sixteen-year-old Marcus finds the currents of his life converging, launching a search for identity that has deep implications for his close-knit community. This conclusion to The Brother/Sister Plays is a coming-of-age story about a young gay man in the south. Tina Landau said, "Tarell found inspiration not only in the real (personal stories from him and friends, experiences in hurricane beleaguered New Orleans) but also in the fantastical: the great farces and dream plays of literature, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, or fairy tales and fables in which people travel 'into the woods' and emerge somehow changed."