Sunday, August 2, 2015


By Toby Zinman



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Billed as "magical realism," Jose Rivera's play, Brainpeople seems more like psychotic realism.  Luna Theater's production of the well-known playwright's one-act--Rivera wrote Marisol and the screenplay for Motorcycle Diaries, among othersfeatures three very accomplished actors in three ridiculous roles.

Mayannah (Jessica Gruver) is rich, beautiful, and tormented by the death of her parents when she was eight. For reasons mainly unintelligible, each year on the anniversary of this sad event, she invites two strangers to a lavish meal. This dinner party is an exceptional occasion since she lives in a country ruled by martial law where everyone is hungry and going outdoors is cause for mortal fear.  The food and wine she serves are so "delicious that [they] taste like sweet revenge." Make of that what you will.

One of the two guests invited this year is Rosemary (Amanda Grove), who, it turns out, suffers from multiple-personality disorder; her "brainpeople" emerge from time to time—Rosalie, Rosalyn, and so on, including a Tom—but Rosemary is the "custodian of this little mental family."  The various personalities speak with different accents (this is an actor's opportunity to show off) and are variously hostile and self-destructive and just plain nasty.

The other guest is Ani (Amanda Schoonover) who seems at first to be the only rational person in the room, finding most of these goings-on scary and unpleasant. But, wait! Soon she'll have her chance at a long monologue in which she reveals her own unhappiness and her own peculiarities; central to her lonely misery is that she was abandoned by her lover, a TV news anchor, whom she adored, but only on screen. But, wait! They had a child. Could it be that Mayannah....

The relationships between the three women get more and more complicated as they are revealed in much pretentious speechifying. Gregory Scott Campbell directs, but there is little a director can do with such a script.  Rivera combines sexual politics with military politics, and adding, presumably to keep us interested, a variety of sadomasochistic hooha.  All told, this was the longest 80 minutes in recent memory.


Luna Theater at 620 S. 8th Street. Through May 24. Tickets $15-$25. Information: or 215-704-0033.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

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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