The new play, opening March 9 after previews and continuing to April 10, is billed as "a blistering account of two Irish brothers' coming-of-age." Wilma co-artistic director Blanka Zizka, who helmed the world premiere co-production of Yellowman (featuring Orlandersmith), directs.
According to Wilma, "After a childhood of suffering at the hands of his Irish father, Billy leaves the urban wasteland of South London for New York to fulfill his dream of acting. Years later, he sends for Shane, his poet brother, who soon follows and finds love with a Nuyorican woman. With biting humor and rich, poetic dialogue, Raw Boys explores the irrevocable ties of family."
African-American Orlandersmith is doing the unusual with the new play: Writing outside her own culture and experience. Here, the characters are English, Irish and New York Puerto Ricans.
Orlandersmith, who is also a respected actress, does not appear in the play. "I've always had an interest in Celt culture — all kinds of cultures," Orlandersmith said Wilma production notes. "We talk about the disparities and the differences between people — I'm more interested in the similarities. You know the Irish are known as the blacks of Europe: if you look at their histories, they're quite similar. And I just felt like writing about it, I wanted to make this connection as someone who's in the world."
The cast includes Jamie Harris, son of the late actor Sir Richard Harris, as the emotionally charged son, Billy. John Keating, a native of The Republic of Ireland and veteran of the New York stage, portrays Shane. Wilma veterans Nancy Boykin and James Gale take on the roles of the Billy and Shane's downtrodden parents Rose and William, while Mateo Gomez and January LaVoy play the Nuyorican father and daughter, Neruda and Altagracia.
Raw Boys is Orlandersmith's first play since Yellowman.
"The selection of Raw Boys reflects many of the Wilma's core values: producing new work; nurturing ongoing relationships with artists we admire; and more recently, guiding our commissioned plays to world premiere production," Blanka Zizka said in a statement. "In Raw Boys, Dael is again transcending racial and cultural barriers in daring ways. She is writing about cultures outside her own — English, Irish, Puerto Rican. She is making connections that are not anchored in cultural identity, but in personal truth."
The Wilma received two prestigious grants to be used toward the world premiere Raw Boys. The resident not-for-profit was one of six theatres to receive the AT&T:OnStage grant and was the sole recipient of The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation's Theatre Visions Fund grant.
The Raw Boys production team includes Elliot Sharp (original music), Klara Zieglerova (set designer), Russell Champa (lighting designer), Anita Yavich (costume designer).
The Wilma is the LORT C resident theatre in Philadelphia. Its co-artistic directors are Blanka Zizka and Jiri Zizka. Zizka-led productions have received 37 Barrymore Awards, including five for the East Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, which was produced the following year on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater.
For more information on The Wilma Theater, call (215) 546-STAGE or visit us online at www.wilmatheater.org.