Three Sisters and a Priest / Suicide Club
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
October 5, 2012
Two very different works from veteran playwright Mario Fratti's are being presented at Theater For The New City: The Suicide Club (2001) and Three Sisters And A Priest (2008).
In The Suicide Club, Dora (Maria Deasy) laments her lack of connection with her grown-up son Stefano (Conor Moore). Stefano still lives at home, but is out late doing who knows what. Dora, whose husband left her several years ago, has found a support group of parents whose children have taken their own lives and pretends that she is in the same situation so she can join. It sounds creepy but somehow when Dora is meeting with fellow bereaved mother Anna (Cheryl Freeman) there is a comic ending. If you're like me, you will have a moment where you consider if some of your closest emotional connections may be dead or dying. This is the shorter play of the evening.
Three Sisters And A Priest riffs off Pope Jean-Paul II's statement in 1999 that heaven and hell should be considered states of mind as opposed to physical places. Sonia (Carol Tammen) and Rita (Deborah Offner) are sisters in their sixties. Still reeling from the Pope's announcement, they call Father Luigi (Mark Ethan Toporek) to visit them in their opulent home. Their other sister Tina (Maria Deasy) lies ill in her bedroom offstage. The sisters have lived "good" lives and have given money to the church over the years. They wonder if they would have done these things if they weren't afraid of being punished in a lake of fire. They question the Pope's sanity, given the stress from the multiple attempts on his life. Father Luigi has a lot to answer for. Did the Pope speak the truth? After all, science has not yet found Hell anywhere beneath the Earth's crust. The sisters want to know what else the Church has not shared with the public. Maybe they could have given their money directly to the poor. Father Luigi assures them that their money has gone towards spreading the faith in Africa, and notes how many martyrs and saints have been recognized by the Pope. The sisters ask where the martyrs will go now, if not to Heaven. One sister admits she was in love with their last Priest, now deceased, but did not ask him to break his vows. She regrets the happiness they could have shared. Their other sister is barely clinging to life in the next room, and one has to wonder if she can survive such a change in worldview.
Mario Fratti's plays go right into everyday situations and pose questions that for many are almost beyond imagining. Can the Christian religion, focused on God becoming a physical man, say that Hell imagery is just an idea from "really good poems" and survive? To what extent do people need moral guidance, and what do they really need to feel happy? These plays, like the rest of Mr. Fratti's extensive output, promote lively discussion. You don't have to be Catholic, or Italian, to be intrigued; his plays have been translated into 19 languages. Stephan Morrow has had lots of experience with Fratti's plays, and it shows, especially in the more serious Three Sisters And A Priest. Across Mark Marcante's beautiful sets, complete with columns in the living room of the second piece, the drama unfolds slowly but surely. All the performers are skilled, the standouts for me being sisters Carol Tammen and Deborah Offner, who go through every emotion from anger, sadness, and regret to moral superiority and then inertia, and their Priest Mark Ethan Toporek, who similarly dances through their arguments in an effort to stay in control.