Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Monument, or Four Sisters (A Sloth Play)
Chanse begins her story with what feels like a nod to Little Women: four sisters at home, making a play. A very melodramatic play that feels exactly like the sort of thing precocious pre-teen girls might come up with. With their innocent ingenuity, they've raided the cardboard recycling bin to create castle walls, shields, and a sword with a spatula for its hilt. It's all silly fun until several loud knocks (wonderful sound design by Sara Witsch) echo through the room, frightening the girls. The noise doesn't scare them because it's strange; it scares them because it's familiar: we are led to believe they have woken their father from a nap, something that tends, in their experience, to have negative effects. Lina (Lisa Hori-Garcia), the eldest, tells her sisters to wait while she goes and calms him down.
In the next scene, the sisters are grown, still closely connected to each other, but traveling different paths. Amy (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart), the second eldest, is a marine biologist studying corals and the effects global warming is having on them. Early on she gives us a mini-lecture on how coral reproduce, which is fascinating, but she wonders if evolution has sent life down the wrong path. "You think about all the crazy ways life has evolved," she tells us, "and the one obvious consistent throughout–the one biological imperative–is reproduce." She finds no ethics or morality in this evolutionary goal that each species has to make more individuals, wondering what we are leaving behind.
Yet Mac (Sango Tajima), the youngest, is currently between jobs, living with Amy and unconcerned about leaving something behind. Her issue is connecting with people in the present, most especially her sister Lina, who is offstage throughout most of the play, but often the subject of conversation among her sisters, who worry about the man she's with, whom none of the sisters like, to the point of their considering kidnapping Lina as a means of rescue her from a man who voted for Donald Trump.
Constance (Rinabeth Apostol) has made a life for herself being a writer, but she's rather ashamed of the job that pays her bills, a kid's animated television program about a group of four sloths who are out to do good in the world. Backed by colorful animations (by Sarah Phykitt) that appear on a screen upstage, the four actors appear onstage in sloth costumes (mainly masks, three-clawed gloves, and triangular tails) perform the show, which–rather like the plays the four created when they were children–is melodramatic and rather simplistic. "Now how will we ever find the treasure and save the orphanage from the evil Villegas brothers?," one cries. Another chimes in, "All the baby sloths will be sent to the zoo!" In their way, the sloths are living up to the tradition of tikkun olam, trying to make the world better.
Director Giovanna Sardelli is blessed to have such a terrific, fearless cast at her disposal. All four actors do wonderful work here, but Sango Tajima stands out for her glorious sense of comic timing, With a simple turn of her head and the briefest of pauses she can make an ordinary line like, "Maybe it's not clear that... well... I am not an awesome person," evoke both laughter and empathy. She plays Mac with a guileless innocence that hides the solid core of a survivor.
Monument, or Four Sisters (A Sloth Play) has its heart in the right place, or rather, in a lot of different places, as Chanse's play spills across time and place yet lacks the narrative thread that could transform it from something weirdly compelling into something weirdly compelling and powerfully effective. As it is now, it's merely a black comedy where the comedy often fails to serve the play's core message: the need for humanity to come together to save us from ourselves.
Monument, or Four Sisters (A Sloth Play) runs through May 29, 2022, at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20-$70. For tickets and information, please visit MagicTheatre.org, call 415-441-8822, or visit the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday one hour prior to curtain.