Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review - Sister Cities (T. Schreiber Studio)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s hard to imagine anything that could be done to make the T. Schreiber Studio production of Colette Freedman’s Sister Cities any better. From the moment the audience enters the theatre and sees George Allison’s amazing set, to the last word before the lights come down (a humorously used vulgarity, in case you are wondering) this funny and touching play is a treasure.

Carolina, Austin, Dallas, and Baltimore are half-sisters, each with the same mother, Mary, and different fathers. The children’s names were Mary’s idea; she wanted to name them after their birth cities (though she admitted that she messed up with her eldest, Carolina - the concept wasn’t quite fleshed out when she was born). Austin, a novelist who is living with her mother, has called her sisters home after Mary’s suicide. The girls, who are not particularly close, are left to deal with the aftermath of her death, the lies that they’ve been telling each other and themselves, and one huge secret that is best not given away here because its revelation is remarkably powerful and central to the entire play. Suffice it to say, the truth will set them free, but it will be painful.

The five women in the cast do an outstanding job with their roles. Though only briefly in the play, Judith Scarpone as Mary effectively displays her character’s complex emotions dealing with a crippling disease, and in her scenes with Maeve Yore’s Austin, shows a steely resolve wrapped in motherly pride. Yore is excellent as the writer, forced to watch her mother’s decline and become Mary’s unwilling confidante as she plans her suicide. The other three characters could easily have become stereotypes – Carolina, the uptight lawyer, Dallas, a prissy schoolteacher, and Baltimore, the wild child – but thanks to superb writing and nuanced performances on behalf of the actors (Ellen Reilly, Emberli Edwards, and Jamie Neumann, respectively), these characters instead appear fully realized and interesting. Where Yore, Reilly, Edwards and Neumann truly excel is in creating a realistic family dynamic. There is a complicated mix of love, jealousy, self-pity, seething anger, and humor on display as the characters push each other’s buttons like siblings often do. The actresses mine these emotions to great effect.

Sister Cities features effective direction by Cat Parker, and strong technical aspects by George Allison (set), Karen Ann Ledger (costumes), Andrea Boccanfuso (lights), and Chris Rummel (sound). In particular, there is a nice, almost cinematic, touch with the sound when the pre-show music (James Taylor’s ‘Carolina In My Mind’) transitions from the main speakers into a small onstage radio. It was well-executed and effectively pulled the audience right into the scene.

This is the third production that I have seen at T. Schreiber Studio, and it’s certainly no mystery to me why each performance I’ve attended has had a sold-out house. The plays are well-chosen, as is the cast, and the technical aspects are always particularly well done. If you’ve never seen a T. Schreiber Studio production, you certainly should, and Sister Cities is a great one to start with.

Written by Colette Freedman
Directed by Cat Parker
Scenic Designer: George Allison
Costume Designer: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Designer: Andrea Boccanfuso
Sound Designer: Christopher Rummel
Production Coordinator: Gina Roché
Stage Manager/Fight Coordinator: Eliza Jane Bowman
Assistant Director: Frank Mihelich
Set Decorator: Carolyn Mraz
Technical Director: Rohit Kapoor
Production Photographer: Gili Getz
Publicist: Katie Rosin

Featuring Emberli Edwards (Dallas), Jamie Neumann (Baltimore), Ellen Reilly (Carolina), Judith Scarpone (Mary), and Maeve Yore (Austin).

T. Schreiber Studio
151 W. 26th Street, 7th Floor

Through November 18th