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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Sleeping Arrangements

Sleeping Arrangements
Tessa Klein and Becky Peters
Sleeping Arrangements, the memory play receiving its premiere at Washington's Theater J, is pleasant but inconsequential. Playwright Laura Shaine Cunningham has adapted the work from her own well-regarded 1989 memoir, but apparently the characterizations and situations come to life much more vividly on the page than in the dramatization.

That is not to say that Cunningham's story lacks drama, only that the stage version offers scattered moments from her unconventional childhood with little introduction to the characters beyond their eccentricities. "It was tragedy that brought us together, but it was comedy that kept us close," the author's surrogate states; the problem with this adaptation is that the deep and binding connections she describes never really come through.

Sleeping Arrangements follows young Lily (adult actress Tessa Klein) as she and her mother, Rosie (Becky Peters), move into their own apartment within eye- and earshot of Yankee Stadium. (According to Rosie, Lily's absent father is fighting in a war, even though World War II is over and the Korean War hasn't yet begun.) From then on, the play is really just a series of sketches featuring the charmingly quirky characters who inhabit Lily's life.

The heroine has two childhood friends in the Bronx, precociously sophisticated Susan (Lindsay Haynes) and ragamuffin Diana (Tiffany Fillmore), but Susan's busybody mother (Susan Moses) considers Lily and Rosie to be bad influences on the girl. After Rosie becomes ill, Lily's two bachelor uncles come to take care of her: Gabe (David Elias), a shy fellow who seems to sing most of the time, and mysterious Len (Paul Morella), who may be a detective, an international spy, or maybe just a crackpot. Eventually they're joined by "Etka from Minsk" (Halo Wines), Lily's flamboyant grandmother, who can be just as spiteful and childish as Lily herself.

No doubt Cunningham fleshes out these characters more fully in her memoir. As they appear onstage, they are ephemeral, clever, but not especially three-dimensional. The best portrayals come from Moses, who brings real bite to her character, and three miniature portraits from Cam Magee: a flighty Southern belle, the tough-minded head of a summer camp and a puzzled teacher. Wines is having a high old time, but the character is hardly a challenge for her.

Director Delia Taylor plays up the impermanence of Lily's memories in a staging with not much scenery (Kathleen Runey's set consists of two many-sided platforms, a backdrop, and some gauzy curtains) and too much pantomime. Melanie Clark's bright costumes make the strongest impression.

Theater J
Sleeping Arrangements
January 9th February 18th
By Laura Shaine Cunningham, inspired by her memoir
Lily: Tessa Klein
Etka from Minsk: Halo Wines
Uncle Len: Paul Morella
Uncle Gabe: David Elias
Diana: Tiffany Fillmore
Susan: Lindsay Haynes
Manny: Tom Howley
Mrs. Aventuro, Barb, Ava: Cam Magee
Mrs. Hassan: Susan Moses
Rosie: Becky Peters
Directed by Delia Taylor
Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theatre, Washington DC Jewish Community Center
1529 16th Street, N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-777-3230 or www.theaterj.org


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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