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The Distant Present: Creating the world of the play
By Diana Fenves

"It happens somewhere between now and then," says playwright Tarell McCraney. His play The Brothers Size is set "in the distant present," a loosely defined time and place in which myth intersects with common experience. "When you tell a story, it's always in the past but this past can be repeated," he says.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times offers this explanation: the distant present is "the place where our minds tell us what is happening to us, extrapolating myth out of life, even as we experience it."

Bringing to life this more abstract reality was the challenge for the play's design team. Just as McCraney's poetic language complements grittier, realistic dialogue, the design balances influences of Yoruban myth and tradition with the grounding of life today in the Louisiana bayou.

The Brothers Size set model, by designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams.

The Set

Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams' set design is spare and intimate. It is a confined space in which characters strive to connect with one another. One of the most prominent features in the script is spoken stage directions—the characters poetically narrate their actions. Tarell McCraney's words offer an invitation to the audience to imagine key images and motions. In order to underscore the lyrical and imaginative nature of these words, the design includes few props. For example, the character Elegba says, "Elegba Enters, drifting, like the moon." The image is powerful, and the simple design opens the audience to conjure their own moons.

The set dressing is limited to old tires, a few pieces of furniture, and a sky that opens and contracts to fit the scene. The space is an abstraction of the Louisiana delta. Its geography is unspecific but it encompasses the feeling of the Bayou housing projects.

Oshoosi costume sketch by designer Constanza Romero.

Costumes

The costumes by Constanza Romero tread the line between distant past and current day through the incorporation of Yoruban symbols blended with a modern aesthetic. The design is subtle but present, if you’re paying attention. The costumes contain references to the character's corresponding deities.

In Yoruban myth, Ogun is the god of tools and metal, and his color is green. In The Brothers Size, Ogun is a mechanic. He wears the green of his Yoruban namesake.

Oshoosi is the god of the hunt and the undertaker of quests. In this modern interpretation, his quest is a discovery of himself. His costume is like a blank canvas with pieces of clothing painted on. He adapts to those around him, sometimes putting on a piece of his friend Elegba's clothing.

Elegba costume sketch by designer Constanza Romero.

Elegba is the god of trickery and crossroads. His clothing is in the god's colors of red, black, and white, contrasting Oshoosi's blue and gold.

Each character features a primal symbol incorporated into the costume. However, the symbols aren't Yoruban in nature but of a new design, created for the play by Romero. Like many other elements in the play, it is a unique, modern representation.

Music and Dance

The fusion of traditional and contemporary is expressed in the choreography by Movement Consultant Sonia Dawkins in a mix of Afro-Brazilian dance and hip hop. The Afro-Brazilian style invokes Yoruban culture with gestural movements. There aren’t dance numbers in the play, though: the choreography exists in the daily lives of these men. Instead of a specific dance, the play transitions everyday movements into powerful gestures. These moments are punctuated by a soundscape by Sound Designer Matt Starritt, made from everyday sounds and a musical composition by Kathryn Bostic, which incorporates sounds of the body.