nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
February 10, 2008
In many ways Sisters' Dance shouldn't work—but it does work, and beautifully. Consider the premise: a farm, two sisters, a divided inheritance—you've heard this one before. However, thanks to solid acting in a well constructed production by the Emerging Artists Theatre Company, it has a deep emotional honesty that delivers a powerful impact.
Alice and Fleur are sisters whose mother has recently passed. Alice, faithful but simmering in resentment, is married to the taciturn Roy, who started as a farmhand there and wound up marrying Alice. Fleur is the wild elder sister, who never cared much for the farm and goes off gallivanting with one man and then the next—think Tennessee Williams meets Beth Henley. While Fleur was away, Alice and Roy were left to nurse their mother through a long and hard illness. Now the mother has died, and as the problematic inheritance is revealed, Fleur returns to the farm. After thoroughly upsetting everything she encounters, the reason for Fleur's current state of slightly frenetic energy shows up, a delicious grifter named Duncan. The contrast between the sisters' lives and the couples' dynamics reveals the flaws in both relationships, bringing out all the old emotional scars. And throughout it all, the ghost of their mother walks through in silent witness to their 24-hour battle. But it is the ending, how Sisters' Dance simultaneously does/does not resolve, that creates one of the most devastatingly human moments I have encountered in theatre of late.
Part of that is due to Sarah Hollister's script, which appears to set up mundane situations but then slips in gorgeously specific details that defy dismissal. An old transgression is brought up but instead of having a standard and somewhat belated moment of betrayal on stage, she moves her characters on to what it is about that specific pain that screams in the soul here and now. The patterns and incidents may be old but how they are wreaking havoc in the characters' lives now is what receives emphasis and lifts this piece beyond the cliché.
Fine direction by Paul Adams also supports the play, as he paces it beautifully and does not allow for any moment to be overburdened with unnecessary angst. His actors play through with honesty and commitment to their roles, warts and all, commanding respect. The entire cast plays full-on, and characters who could be stereotypical in less subtle hands are instead deeply human. Especially compelling is Laura Fois's Alice, who quietly breaks your heart, but it is a superior ensemble and all are vital the production's strength.
While the entire production is admirably served by consistently well-done design in all areas, I do wish that the set was moved back from the audience by two feet during Act One. At the moment it is a tad too close and with the steepness of the seating in this space, the actors' relationship to the audience is slightly awkward as they are forced to angle up a bit. However, it is a fine design by Brian Garber and with a slight shift for Act Two not only allows the expansion of action but opens up physically in a way that mirrors the opening up of the play's concerns from the core to the outer world.
As produced by Emerging Artists Theatre, Sisters' Dance is a wonderful piece of honest drama that reaffirms all that is still valid and valuable in the traditional theatre. The territory may be old but the experience is fresh and alive.