The O'Conner Girls
Also see David's review of Thoroughly Modern Millie
Seattle actress turned playwright Katie Forgette's new comedy/drama The O'Conner Girls is not an unpleasant way to spend a few hours. With a high octane quartet of actresses under Christine Sumption's able direction, I smiled and laughed quite a bit at this tale of a family in transition following a patriarch's death. Yet, at the end of the show, I was still hungry for more of a dramatic meal than Forgette was able to dish out.
The O'Conner Girls gives us an Irish Catholic Minnesota family consisting of two fiftyish, paternal twin sisters, their mother and an aunt gathered at the family's home following the burial of the girls' father, a rather distant man who operated a revival movie house. There is an O'Conner brother referred to, but he is always out or upstairs asleep during the course of the story. A younger male doctor, whom the girls once baby sat, pops in for a few brief appearances, as a device to set up a love interest for one of the sisters, Martha, who has been devoting her life to the care of her ailing father at the expense of her own happiness. The other sister, Liz, previously sent borrowed money home to help, unable to bear telling her family that both her marriage and successful real estate career have foundered. Their mother seems to be declining a bit, but has positive plans to go on a cruise by herself and enjoy herself before any physical or mental decline makes that prohibitive, and their Aunt Margie, the late father's sister, is the amiable family busybody, meddling in the lives of her nieces and sister in law because her own life is so empty.
Over the course of two hours we spend two days or so with the family, fairly benign secrets are revealed, quarrels arise and are resolved, and by the end Martha is hooking up with the younger doctor, Liz is going to sell the family house and join Mom on the cruise, and who knows what Aunt Margie will do with herself, other than rouse the unseen brother out of bed. Forgette's play is full of recognizable characters, funny one-liners and a sense of time and place. But it ends without really giving us a resolution. I kept wanting one more scene, and I can't suggest what it might have been, but something to put more of a capper on the action.
What really makes watching The O'Conner Girls a pleasant experience are the assured, centered performances by its female cast members. Kate Purwin makes Martha easily the most warmly likable member of the clan, so we are rooting for sparks to fly between her and Dr. David, her younger suitor (a sketchy role made likable by actor Hans Altweis, who reads a bit too young perhaps). Cynthia Lauren Tewes mines solid laughs and subtle pathos as Liz, the more worldly, jaded twin. Purwin and Tewes develop a believable relationship as these very different sisters, and Zoaunne Leroy makes mother Sarah O'Connor a warmly starchy presence, and a woman who knows you have to grasp onto dreams delayed before they are lost forever. Laura Kenney gives a blazingly comic performance as meddlesome Aunt Margie, the kind of relative that is most amusing as long as she is not in your own family.
The intimate Leo K. space at the Rep has been too long dark, and scenic designer Scott Weldin creates a cozy and detailed ambiance for the O'Conner's abode, aided by a suitably warm, yet muted lighting design by Peter Maradudin, and characterful costumes by Tesse Crocker.
The O'Conner Girls is a play that wants nothing more than to be something warmly nostalgic and lightly humorous, in the tradition of frequently revived older American comedies like Morning's At Seven. It bodes well for future playwriting efforts by Forgette, who simply needs to put as much zing into her storytelling as she does into her dialogue.The O'Conner Girls runs Tuesdays-Sundays through April 10 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center. For more information go to the Seattle Rep's web-site at www.seattlerep.org.