Size matters — Magic’s Brothers is a keeper

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Tobie Windham (left) is Oshoosi Size and Joshua Elijah Reese is Ogun Size in the Magic Theatre’s The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Below: Alex Ubokudom is Elegba. Photos by Jennifer Reiley.

Comparing The Brothers Size, the second part of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays cycle, to In the Red and Brown Water, the first part, is inevitable but ultimately unnecessary.

These are two very different plays, both extraordinary and both extraordinarily well produced by, respectively, Magic Theatre and Marin Theatre Company. Red and Brown opened first and gave us a broad view of McCraney’s world, a working-class Louisiana town where the mostly African-American inhabitants exist in a purely theatrical dimension between reality and poetry, between fact and folklore.

Marin’s Red and Brown, with its musical soundscape and large cast, gave us a wide view. Magic’s The Brothers Size scales things down to a wonderfully intimate, emotionally powerful level. You don’t have to have seen the first part to enjoy the second, but it will provide a richer experience (and the reverse is probably true as well).

In director Octavio Solis, the renowned playwright, the McCraney’s drama has found a deeply insightful guide into a tight brotherly bond challenged by bad behavior and unfortunate circumstances. With only three men in the cast and a mostly bare stage (Sarah Sidman designed the lights and created the set, such as it is with its piles of tires and metal drums, with James Faerron), Solis evokes an entire community through acutely observed details in his actors’ performances.

Joshua Elijah Reese is older brother Ogun Size. We met the character (played by another actor) in In the Red and Brown Water and learned that he’s a hard worker, a self-made man who runs his own car shop. Tobie Windham (a recent graduate of American Conservatory Theater’s MFA program) is younger brother Oshoosi Size, fresh out of the penitentiary and not very excited about finding his way in the world, especially not as his brother’s employee.

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Basically on their own since the death of their mother when they were young, the brothers are fiercely bonded. Their relationship is also fiery, especially since Oshoosi’s return from prison and the heightened contrast between Ogun’s mature and grounded responsibility and Oshoosi’s more profligate ways.

Ogun, as he has done most of his life, is trying to be a steady, guiding figure to his younger brother, but the world and its pleasures are too enticing. Oshoosi is an outsize (pun intended) personality. He’s a pure charmer (and you should see Windham flirt with the audience – shameless and mighty powerful) who has captured the affections of Elegba, a character we met in Part One, played here by Alex Ubokudom.

The two men became close in prison. They were, in Elegba’s careful words, “brothers in need.” Now their relationship is intensely complicated, and Elegba, whose nature is passionate and mischievous, will lead Oshoosi in a dangerous direction.

The plot of The Brothers Size is fairly straightforward as Oshoosi attempts, unsuccessfully in so many ways, to walk the proverbial straight and narrow. But the intensity and the depth of the relationships are incredibly rich and complicated.

McCraney still employs a certain narrative distance, especially when he has his characters recite their own stage directions. But there’s very little emotional distance here (as there is in Red and Brown) because the superb acting provides so many openings into so much conflict and humor and profound human connection.

These brothers love each other with everything they have – but what they have is so very different. When they’re hanging out together listening to Otis Redding, being brothers and having fun, it’s like real life in a discreet theatrical frame. The communication with the audience is so direct and so thrilling it’s impossible not to be sucked into the heart of the story.

With the extraordinary momentum created by In the Red and Brown Water and now The Brothers Size, it’s a shame we have to wait until November for the concluding chapter, Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet at ACT. But good things, as they say, come to those who wait.


Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size continues through October 17 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. Tickets are $45-$60. Visit For information about The Brother/Sister Plays cycle visit

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