Review: ‘The Brothers Size’ — tough love, anyone?

 Carlo Campbell (left) as one of

Carlo Campbell (left) as one of "The Brothers Size," and Kirschen Wolford, in the production by Simpatico Theatre Project (Photo courtesy of Daniel Kontz)

It’s a treat to see “The Brothers Size,” a stirring piece about two adult brothers who mostly get along by not getting along.

Part of the reason is because its playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, has emerged in the past few years as one of contemporary American theater’s freshest voices. Part of the reason is because Simpatico Theatre Project is giving the play an impressive ride on the fifth-floor stage of Walnut Street Theatre.

That ride takes a little too much time to rev up — the first 10 minutes or so of this “Brothers Size” feels hesitant under James Ijames’ direction. Ijames (pronounced EE-yems) is mostly known as an actor here, and if you attend Philadelphia professional theater you’re almost sure to run into him, from a seat in the audience, during a season. His directing stint with “The Brothers Size” ends up a success, because when the 80-minute intermission-less play gets going, it revs like a high-horsepower engine.

Which is just the way a man named Ogun Size likes the cars he fixes in his shop when he hands the keys back to his customers. Ogun Size (a nuanced performance by Carlo Campbell, whose uses his expressive face to great advantage) has no one in the world except his younger brother (Akeem Davis), and that last root in his family is decaying. The brother, Oshoosi, has just been released after serving a jail term, and is living with Ogun and hanging around with a buddy (Kirschen Wolford) who has a mischievous sense about him.

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All three actors are excellent, in both their delivery of a rough Bayou English (McCraney sets the play in the Lousiana “distant present”) and their interpretations of the well-sculpted characters. “The Brothers Size,” on the surface, is about the future of a charismatic young guy who messes up and the way his older brother is tied by a sense of duty to be a role model. But it’s also a stark and satisfying portrait of tough love.

“The Brothers Size” is part of a trilogy by McCraney called “The Brother/Sister Plays” and this month offers an opportunity to see another one of them, also a short play”: “Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet,” being produced later this month by Plays & Players. The third part of the trilogy is a full-length play called “In the Red and Brown Water.” Each play stands alone, and all three are examples of remarkable storytelling in McCraney’s trademark style, in which the actors often declaim the stage directions as a part of their lines. 

McCraney, 33, graduated in drama from Yale. He grew up in the Miami projects, a black kid dealing with being gay, like some of the characters he writes. His drug-addicted mother died from complications related to AIDS. In 2009, the New York Times presented McCraney with its first Outstanding Playwright Award that honors a writer for a New York debut — it was “The Brothers Size.” That makes a strong case for seeing the play, and the Simpatico production seconds the motion. 

“The Brothers Size,” a production from Simpatico Theatre Project, runs through Nov. 2 on the fifth-floor stage of the Walnut Street Theatre, on Walnut near Ninth Street. 215-423-0254 or 


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