Posted November 20, 2013

'The Brother/Sister Plays' explores the importance of community

Luis Fernando Rodriguez
Actors perform “In the Red and Brown Water”, from the Brother/Sister plays in Tomlinson Theater.

A popular African proverb made famous by Hillary Clinton states, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Though Clinton used that phrase during a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1996 to imply that it takes a community to improve social standards, the idea also applies true for those working in theater.

Without the work of a talented community of actors, directors and set designers, Temple Theaters might not have been able to raise the curtain on its Philadelphia premiere of The Brother/Sister Plays, a trilogy of interconnected stories set in a fictional Louisiana town.

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays includes “In the Red and Brown Water,” “The Brothers Size,” and “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet,” the plays are being presented as a rotating repertory in two parts in Tomlinson Theater through Sunday, Nov. 24.

The theme of community is paramount to the play. As rehearsals and planning for the show progressed, the cast and crew formed a community of their own, said Lee Kenneth Richardson, faculty director and associate professor of acting and directing.  

“The play points to the need to ‘heal’ each community, so we can begin to reach out to surrounding communities to share rituals of survival and growth,” he said.

Cat Johnson, scenic designer and third-year master of design student, created one set that works for three shows. The challenge was finding the common thread between each story, she said.

Johnson used a mix of natural and manmade materials, including steel pipes and tubes, dirt, stones and wood to create a set reminiscent of post-Katrina New Orleans.

The Brother/Sister Plays takes on a ritualized form of playwriting that pulls from storytelling and African, particularly Yoruba, myth,” Johnson said. “It reminds me of the indigenous process of people telling stories while children sit at their feet.”

“In the Red and Brown Water” tells the story of Oya, played by Jaela Cheeks-Lomax. Oya is a talented teenage athlete navigating her transition to womanhood. It is directed by Liz Carlson, a second-year master of directing student.

“The Brothers Size” was directed by Richardson and examines the real and imaginary elements that confine two brothers: Oschoosi, played by Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., and Ogun, played by Edward Mawere.

The final play,Marcus; of the Secret of Sweet,” is directed by David Girard, a second-year master of directing student, tells the story of Marcus who is coming to terms with his history, his sexuality and his future.