by Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Tarell Alvin McCraney has been scooping up grants, prizes and residencies like jelly beans; he is young, black and gay, and his trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays, “gives voice to the voiceless.” The Brothers Size, in a haunting production at Simpatico Theatre Project, is the middle play of the three.
The setting is San Pere, Louisiana, and the time is the tantalizing “Distant Present.” The older brother of the Brothers Size is Orgun (Carlo Campbell) who owns a car repair shop; his exasperating younger brother Oshoosi (Akeem Davis) is just out of prison and cannot bear being confined by anyone. Elegba (Kirschen Wolford) was in prison with Oshoosi, and their intense friendship is one of the enigmas of the play.
It helps to know that Elegba is the Yoruba trickster diety, a mischief-maker who is always causing trouble. It’s also worth knowing, if you see the third play of the trilogy, Marcus or the Secret of Sweet, opening soon at Plays & Players, that Elegba will turn out to be Marcus’ father. Wolford uses his bright, naughty smile and a seductive glance to excellent advantage.
The Brothers Size’s names also hark back to Yoruba cosmology: Ogun is the spirit of iron, war and labor, and Oshoosi is the spirit of the forest, the hunter, the wanderer. All this creates an exotic overlay on a production that errs on the side of realism, although the lighting (Andrew J. Cowles) is very evocative, and the set, although grungier than would seem necessary, allows Elegba to appear and disappear. But why, if Oshoosi is “a siren,” someone whose singing voice is thrillingly irresistible, did they cast Davis, who clearly cannot sing?
McCraney’s odd signature technique—having the actors speak not only their lines but also their stage directions—is not made enough of here; we should feel the slight unsettling shift in gears more clearly than we do. Director James Ijames has the play begin silently as the three men stand as points of a triangle and change positions over and over again, telegraphing their triangulated relationship to great effect.
Simpatico Theatre Project at Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, 9th & Walnut Sts. Through Nov.2. Tickets $15-25. Information: 215-423-0254 or firstname.lastname@example.org