Chicago Theatre Review
The ABC’s of Sisterhood
elemeno pea – Citadel Theatre
Artistic Director Scott Phelps made a delightful discovery while attending a weekend of new plays, presented at the 2011 Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler’s story about a pair of siblings from Buffalo, New York, who reunite over a Labor Day weekend, is an entertaining and engrossing comedy/drama that examines the changing relationship between two sisters, as well as the seductive power of wealth.
Presented as the mid-season offering of Citadel’s current season of “eclectic” plays and musicals, this engaging story is one of the best productions this North Shore theatre company has presented. It’s smart, funny, affective and just a little wicked in its portrayal of family members who’ve chosen very different paths for their adult lives. Metzler’s insightful one-act probes how two close sisters have grown apart in their goals and view of life. In a world that’s seeing family, friends and loved ones continually at odds because of politics and other reasons, Ms. Metzler’s drama is appropriate, telling and timely.
Set at the end of the summer season, in a plush, oceanfront guest house on Martha’s Vineyard (beautifully designed with lavish detail by Eric Luchen), Devon, a blue collar Buffalo gal visits her more elegant sister, Simone, for a sisters weekend. Simone works as the personal assistant for Michaela, a wealthy, spoiled trophy wife. Simone makes a huge salary and is encouraged to indulge in an endless array of perks, all the while serving the Massachusetts nobility. She’s become full of herself and feels she’s landed in her own personal paradise. Devon, on the other hand, thinks her brainwashed sister, a promising writer who’s shelved her creative ambitions, is selling her soul. What begins as a rowdy comedy ends as a thoughtfully poignant drama.
This production, beautifully directed with empathy, energy and elan and by Ellen Phelps, is a sassy little play about the imponderable, explosive relationship between people and wealth. It examines how people both live with and without it. Ms. Phelps is blessed with a talented cast to tell this story, led by talented Maggie Kettering as Devon. With spunk and sentiment, Devon challenges her sister Simone, played with the childlike glee of a kid in a candy store, by Sarah Hecht, to realistically face what she’s doing with her life. Simone is at the beck and call of of Michaela, played with style, drive and pompous arrogance by Grayson Heyl. Unbeknownst to Simone, her specially planned sisters’ weekend with Devon, at the supposedly empty guesthouse, is about be sabotaged by her selfish, well-to-do employer.
Also on hand to serve the ladies is put-upon Jos-B, the only remaining servant, still at the estate to close up the property at summer’s end. He’s played with reluctant, compulsory obedience, laced with sarcasm, by a very likable Ray Andrecheck. Both Devon and Jos-B, so-called because Michaela has employed another Jose, whom she calls Jos-A, discover they share a similar view of the overindulged lady of the house. They bond over booze and gossip, while Michaela’s life begins to crumble around her.
Nic Fanti plays Ethan, Simone’s somewhat stereotypical middle-age boyfriend. He’s as affluent and self-entitled as his other Vineyard buddies and, while he has no intention of ever marrying her, finds Simone a pretty little playmate for the time being. Dressed in his salmon-colored designer slacks, sweater tossed over his shoulders with studied carelessness, Ethan is the epitome of the East Coast elite. He’s the buffoon of the play, the butt of every joke, and not to be taken seriously, except by Simone.
In Citadel’s fine production, this entertaining, yet bitingly thoughtful play is both sophisticated, original and funny. It’s an Upstairs/Downstairs kind of story about the aristocracy versus the hired help, told with a contemporary bent. Costumed with superb taste by Katherine Pavlovna Goldberg, and played upon one of this company’s most beautiful sets, accented with realistic lighting and sound designs by Emma Magrady and Bob Boxer, this comic drama is a real gem. It should be noted that the play contains considerable profanity and provocative dialogue, which may be offensive to more sensitive audiences. But the performances, the direction and the selection of this thought-provoking new drama make this a must-see evening of adult entertainment about the ABCs of sisterhood.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 3-March 5 by Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling them at 847-735-8554 or by going to www.citadeltheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.