Wednesday, December 17, 2014


by Toby Zinman


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

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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