Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Technically Accomplished Production of Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig
The late Wendy Wasserstein once told Artistic Director Robert Kelly that she loved TheatreWorks "since they do all of my plays. It's the one place I can find unconditional love." As a tribute to the late great playwright, the company is presenting one of her most accomplished plays, The Sisters Rosensweig, at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts through April 30th. This replaces the previously announced Wasserstein/Cy Coleman collaboration Pamela's First Musical.
Strangely, this is the first time this regional company has presented the 1993 play that Frank Rich of the New York Times called "a generous group portrait" and Jeremy Gerald of Variety called "mean-spirited." I saw two productions of the play in New York, first with the original cast of Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn, Robert Klein and Frances McDormand at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre and later with Michael Learned, Linda Lavin, Joanne Camp and Hal Linden at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
The Sisters Rosensweig is a good, tidy play full of gags, sketches and stereotypes. Director Robert Kelley is helming a technically perfect comedy-drama with solid acting on the part of the three sisters. He gives a certain light touch to serious problems dealing with anti-Semitism, sexism, Jewish absorption into society and child rearing. Joe Ragey has designed a beautiful detailed set of a Queen Anne's Gate apartment in London. (The set is an actual detailed living room and dining area from a brochure of the house in a fashionable section of London).
The Sisters Rosensweig takes place during the summer of 1991 in London during the communist demise in Eastern Europe. Older sister Sara (Allison Edwards), a successful banker, is celebrating her 54th birthday. Sisters Pfeni (Rebecca Dines), an international journalist, and Gorgeous (Carole Healey), known as radio personality Doctor Gorgeous, flies into London to help celebrate her birthday. Sara is the mother of Tess (Lindsay Benner), a radical against society who is about to run off with boyfriend Tom (Chad Ryan Deverman) to join the Lithuanian underground.
Other characters appear in the comings and goings at the luxurious Queen Anne's Gate apartment, such as Geoffrey, a bisexual who declares himself a closet heterosexual and is having an affair with Pfeni. An intruding dinner guest, Mervyn (Michael G. Hawkins), enters the scene and gets into great verbal sparring matches with Sara. One gets that these two will end up in bed.
All three of the sisters seem to have had man problems most of their lives. Sara does her best to resist the romantic advances of Mervyn, Pfeni is in a no-win relationship with overly gay Geoffrey who finally tells her "I miss men" (she retorts "So do I"). Gorgeous, who is the most outspoken of the three, is having problems with her husband back home who has not worked in three years. Adding to the confusion is prissy Nicholas Pym (David E. Kazanjian), who comes to dinner as Sara's friend who apparently is a caricature of an up market English conservative. Throughout the night of the dinner and the morning after, there are discussions on the fall of the Soviet Union, Reaganomics and the plight of the homeless. The dialogues of the three Jewish-American sisters push the boundaries of their own lives to define themselves.
Allison Edwards (New York actress who has appeared in regional productions across the country) is excellent as an ice queen cushioned in Jewish denial. Rebecca Dines (Shakespeare in Hollywood and leading player at Tahoe Shakespeare Festival last summer) restrains her character's peculiarity. Carole Healey (performed in many leading theatre companies, including Pittsburgh Public) is verbose as Gorgeous but becomes heart-rendering in her tearful confession of failure toward the end of the play.
Jeff Williams (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Music Man on Broadway) as Pfeni's Cambridge-educated theater director lover is too stereotypical as a flaming queen. Chad Ryan Deverman (New York Moonchildren and all-male version of Twelfth Night) as Tess's working class British boyfriend tends to go overboard with his manner, acting more like a young Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Michael G. Hawkins (appeared as Captain Hook in national tour of Peter Pan) gives an authentic performance as the intruder Mervyn. His verbal bantering with Sara is razor sharp. Lindsey Benner (Bus Stop and Emma) is meticulously real as Tess. David E. Kazanijan (Matchmaker and Oxygen) is very good in the small role of the posh boyfriend of Sara.
The Sisters Rosensweig runs through April 30th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets please call 650-903-6000 or visit theatreworks.org.
Their next production is the world premiere of a new musical by David Kirshenbaum and Jack Heifner, Vanities, opening June 21st and running through July 16.