The Sisters, by Richard Alfieri is a modern adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, which was first performed in 1901. Regardless, of the shows roots before the actors even make an appearance I am expecting a new and unusual theatrical experience. Produced by Cup-A-Jo Productions and performed in the restored Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall (ACFL&MH) in Carnegie, the charmingly historic atmosphere of the 400 seat theater is always pleasant and comfortable. So on Thursday evening, after checking in at the box office, I was surprised to be directed upstairs- this is different I thought. As I reached the second floor the long, deep and sorrowful sounds of a cello entranced me toward the Lincoln Gallery. The Gallery, a 2,360 sq.ft. room with 100 portraits of Abraham Lincoln displayed across the walls, is a large open space. On this occasion, the room was separated by rows of chairs for the audience. A small table arranged with wine and cheese greets the guests at the entrance. The audience mingled about, browsing the portraits and chatting quietly as Maighread Southard- Wray elegantly moved the bow across the strings of her cello, creating a deeply dramatic ambiance.
The Sisters, a 2 Act play, primarily takes place in the faculty lounge at Manhattan Crest College. The play is a family feud between three sisters and a brother. Cast as Olga and Marcia, the two eldest sisters, Gayle Pazerski and Joanna Lowe, the youngest sister Irene is played by Jenny Malarkey and Stanley Graham as Andrew, the brother. The show opens with Dr. Chebrin, (George Saulnier) head of the English Department, Gary, (Everett Lowe) professor of political science, and David, (Parag S. Gohel) professor of philosophy, all friends of the Prior family, relaxing in the lounge. Olga and Marcia, fellow college academics, enter with their arms full of brightly wrapped gifts and decorations. They begin hastily preparing a surprise party for Irene. Soon Andrew arrives with his fiancée Nancy (Jessie Goodman), and the dramatics explode. Nancy is ‘trash’ because she has an uncultured sounding accent and no degree. Everyone despises her; except for Andrew. Marcia’s sharp tongue and contemptuous remarks spare no one but are exceptionally brutal when directed at Nancy or toward Andrew in reference to Nancy. Nearly everyone finds Marcia offensive and brutish. At first the insults get some laughs, they are masked by intelligent and, should I dare say, clever phrases but as the show progresses I can’t like Marcia, her character becomes nastier and more cruel.
Vincent (Jason Spider Matthews) an old family friend, unexpectedly shows up for a visit. Vincent has not seen the Prior family since they were young children. He is handsome, courteous and gracious and despite Marcia’s graceless, loud- mouth and childish outbursts, or her marriage to Harry (Don DiGiulio) sparks fly between the two of them and a heavy affair quickly ensues. After the surprise party Irene is raced to the hospital for a drug overdose and the siblings come close, each in their own way, to addressing their issues; resentment, jealousy and anger which they harbor toward one another, their deceased father and themselves.
Each of the siblings, particularly the sisters, carry a secret they do not trust the others with but desperately want to share. Each sister is angry and sad and has her own cruel and self- deprecating behaviors. The fighting is constant. It is nasty, mean- spirited and deeply disturbing. The familial dynamics are real and the ways and words the siblings choose to harm each other are personal and painful. This play is dysfunctional and depressing.
The main character, never actually appears in the play. Father, continues to control the monsters he created, I mean his children, from the grave. All of the ‘issues’ the Prior siblings struggle with stem from a childhood with a controlling and spirit squelching father. When alive, he managed to carefully craft his children to fit the roles he needed filled. As adults, Olga, Marcia, Andrew and Irene are having a difficult time abandoning those roles. As the drama unravels so does Daddy’s hold on each character but no one actually resolves their issues. Irene comes closest to overcoming her traumatic childhood until the final scene of the play when we witness her psychotic break.
When the play ended I felt drained. I sat through almost two hours of arguing, crying, insults, pipe dreams, and ‘illusions of grandeur’. Despite the sisters’ revelations and confessions I had a hard time empathizing with any of the characters. After reflecting upon this for a couple of days I decided the play was written this way. I found no fault in the performances of the actors. There are several cast members who stood out more than others for exceptionally executed scenes, such as the snarky and bitter Gary Sokol played by Everett Lowe. Lowe shocked me with his frighteningly unexpected and violent outburst. Joanna Lowe’s portrayal of Marcia as the refined woman with a wicked spirit is impeccable. She moves from one argument to the next without missing a beat. Finally,
Goodman as Nancy is fun and bright and a fresh face among the misery of the Prior sisters. I just wish her character had been developed more. I would have loved to see her actually earn some of the insults she is battered with.
The Sisters is directed by Art Deconciliis. The representation of a broken family is distressing and the depiction of damaged psyche is never fun to watch. The performance space is unconventional but comfortable and the acting poignant. The play is more melodramatic than I personally enjoy but if tragedy is your cup of tea, then this Cup-A-Jo production of The Sisters should gratify.
Special thanks to Cup-A-Jo Productions for complimentary press tickets. The Sisters runs at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall until Saturday January 16th. Tickets can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and more information can be found here.