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‘Sisters Rosensweig’ needs stage that’s more intimate

Wed., April 13, 2011

The Spokane Civic Theatre’s streak of compelling productions comes to a halt with this talky and overlong production of Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Sisters Rosensweig.”

It consists of three grown sisters alternately insulting each other and then, you know, being there for each other.

Here’s what you need to know about this play: One sister is named Gorgeous and she says “Funsy!” a lot.

However, years ago, I actually enjoyed a previous production of the “The Sisters Rosensweig.” What was the difference with this one? The biggest difference was not in the control of director Marianne McLaughlin.

This play is performed in the wrong space. “The Sisters Rosensweig” is the kind of emotional family drama that cries out to be in the more intimate Studio Theatre. Here, on the larger Main Stage, the whole thing just seemed, well, stagey.

I didn’t feel like I was in a living room with the sisters. I felt like they were characters up on a stage, performing for me. Or performing at me.

Wasserstein sprinkles the play with self-conscious theatrical references to, for instance, Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” (get it?) She also invents a flamboyant British theater director, Geoffrey Duncan, played by Dave Rideout, who wears a “Scarlet Pimpernel” hat in one scene and goes around chanting, “We seek him here, we seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere.” That made the whole thing feel even more stagey.

The cast does what it can with these characters. Two of the sisters, Sara Goode, played by Sara Nicholls, and Gorgeous Teitelbaum, played by Esa Lariviere, come across as three-dimensional (even if one says “funsy” a little too often). Both actresses made these characters entertaining and vivid.

However, McLaughlin and actress Leigh Sandness made a risky decision in how to play the third sister, Pfeni. Pfeni is supposed to be the wry, sarcastic, carefree sister, a globe-trotting travel writer. Yet Sandness plays her as diffident to the point of disturbed. She mutters. She flaps her arms and hands in agitation. She says “umm” too often. Pfeni should be getting more laughs than either of her sisters, but a lot of these laughs are stifled.

Sandness has been excellent in other shows, so it’s not a question of talent. It’s a performance that might have worked better in the Studio Theatre, where projection is not so important and nuances are easier to convey.

JP O’Shaughnessy gave the show a nice jolt of personality as the bold American furrier. The plot centers around his attempts to thaw the cold banker Sara. I also liked Alyssa Day as the rebellious daughter Tess, and her punky boyfriend, Tom, played nicely by Henry McNulty (who replaced the previously cast David McCarthy).

McNulty makes this grungy London street kid into the politest and most endearing character on the stage.

That’s great, but “The Sisters Rosensweig” shouldn’t work that way.

This review is based on Saturday’s performance of “The Sisters Rosensweig,” Spokane Civic Theatre Main Stage. Call (509) 325-2507 for tickets.


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