Theater is especially exciting when a play teaches us how to watch it — when the storytelling is as innovative and fresh as the story.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, launching the Simpatico Theatre Project’s ninth season, does this and more. Director James Ijames’ bold, assured 90-minute production unfolds a tight but not tidy universe in which brothers Ogun (Carlo Campbell) and Oshoosi (Akeem Davis) struggle to survive together after Oshoosi’s release from prison. Mischievous friend Elegba (Kirschen Wolford) complicates their relationship.
The script jars at first because characters announce their actions, essentially speaking stage directions. (“Elegba enters,” announces Elegba. Ogun sighs before declaring, “Ogun sighs, ignoring his baby brother.”) It’s disconcerting, but purposeful, forcing us to listen closely. With these capable actors, the unconventional move comes off as poetic. I’m glad the playwright wasn’t dissuaded by some well-meaning mentor.
The story spills out in short, tense scenes, portentous dreams and rousing songs. Oshoosi wants freedom after prison, where all a man can do is “wait, cry, wait.” Ogun, the responsible older brother running his own garage, feels trapped, too: “Whenever you fall,” he tells Oshoosi, “everyone looks at me like I fucking pushed you ... that’s my lockup.” They have no one but Elegba, who tempts Oshoosi to ditch Ogun and the safe, dull job he offers.
The Brothers Size is the first play in McCraney’s acclaimed Brothers/Sisters trilogy, which will get a lot of play in Philly this season; the third, Marcus: or the Secret of Sweet, is at Plays & Players Oct. 17-Nov. 3, and the trilogy plays in rep at Temple Theaters Nov. 13-24. See them all.
Through Nov. 3, $25, Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., fifth floor, 215-423-0254, simpaticotheatre.org.