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Three Sistahs

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Thomas W. Jones III

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4097

SHOWING : July 15, 2011 - August 28, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Back for an encore performance, this blues & pop musical set in 1969 is about three sisters – an idealistic activist, a suburban housewife and a diligent professor – as they gather for the third year in a row for a funeral. Two years ago it was Mamma. Last year it was Daddy. This year it is their only brother. When they return to pack up the family home, sparks fly as they share wine, memories, dreams and secrets. During the last night in their childhood home, these three sisters determine what family means to them now. Starring Bernardine Mitchell and Crystal Fox.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Family Tides
by Dedalus
Monday, August 15, 2011
4.0
Two years ago, Horizon staged Thomas W. Jones III’s “A Cool Drink a Water,” an homage to “A Raisin in the Sun” that took characters similar to Lorraine Hansberry’s and moved them forward a few decades. Now, Mr. Jones’ starting point is Chekov’s classic “Three Sisters,” and, if “Three Sistahs” echoes Chekov only slightly, it nevertheless provides a “playground” for three marvelously talented singer/actresses and a few “raise-the-roof” numbers that are infectious and memorable.

Chekov’s Prozorov sisters (Olga, Masha, and Irina) are here transformed to the Bradshaw sisters (Olive, Marsha, and Irene). They have come together at the family home in Washington DC for the funeral of their only brother, killed in Viet Nam (it is 1969). There’s where the similarity to Chekov ends. Through the course of an evening, a night, and the following morning, the Bradshaw’s kvetch and bond, and vent grievances old and new, and that’s about it. Whereas Chekov’s sisters live through several years of incident and disappointment, Mr. Jones’ Sistahs pack up some stuff and explore old emotional baggage. Whereas the Prozorovs were profoundly disappointed in their lives and loves, longing for a Moscow youth filtered through selective memory, the Bradshaws are profoundly disappointed in each other, longing to forget their past and quick to defend their own choices and lives.

As in the earlier play, it is a misdirection to compare Jones’ work with his starting-point source. He is not doing an adaptation or a sequel or an update, he is using the earlier plays as starting points, to explore his own themes of family and society independent of (and sometimes in direct contradiction to) his sources. In other words, our knowledge of Jones’ antecedents may color and influence how we react to his characters, but that knowledge may be easily discarded – his agenda is very different from Chekov’s.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in “Three Sistah’s” lack of drive, lack of a narrative arc. The conflict is minimal – family squabbles and judgments only, so you’d think there would be more complexity of character. But I found these three surprisingly limited in scope. Olive, the oldest, is very much like Olga – spinsterish and devoted to her life as a college professor. She is also quickest to judge her sisters, making snarky insults almost a part of every conversation. Like Masha, Marsha is trying to hide an unhappy marriage from her sisters, but she is also the most sensual, the most vital, the one who can find something to laugh about even in the most trying of circumstances. Irene is the most unlike her antecedent – she is young and radical and not a little surly, almost blaming her sisters for complicity in letting the “Establishment” swallow her brother’s life like so much cannon fodder. She starts out as probably the most interesting character, but, in the end, we learn the least about her.

And there is no one else. We do not see these characters with any of their men, their relations, or their colleagues. There are no servants or retainers, no friends or neighbors. And, to be fair, this keeps in tune with Mr. Jones’ “focus on the family,” his examination of the ebbs and tides of sibling relationships, the changing alliances that can shatter with a misplaced jibe or wrong-headed quip, or a judgmental observation. The problem is that, unlike in “A Cool Drink a Water,” the family dynamics here have a been-there seen-that nothing-new feel that robs the play of energy and almost forces us to unfavorably compare the Bradshaws with the Prozorovs.

If that’s the case, why am I still recommending the production? For two reasons that I can rattle off the top of my brain – the music and the performances. The songs by Mr. Jones and William Hubbard carry a timeless rhythm and blues feel that is infectious, that carries emotional arrows that never fail to bull’s-eye our hearts. I can’t cite any songs in detail – the program does not list the musical numbers (and do you hate it when that happens as much as I do? ) – but, the show is filled to the brim with them, and I loved almost all of them.

And this cast is blessed with talent to spare. All three actresses (Crystal Fox as Marsha, Amber Iman as Irene, and the incomparable Bernadine Mitchell as Olive) have belts that shake the roof and rattle the soul, and when they sing together, their voices blend like pureed magic. These three could make the phone book sound compelling and memorable, and here, they create characters with enough fire and sass to make the plot-shortage of the play evident only in retrospect.

So, don’t go to “Three Sistahs” expecting a Chekovian word-fest whine-fest, or to see another classic given an African-American spin. Go to see three dynamo singers get to the root of sisterhood (sistah-hood?) by raising the roof in song. Go to see three women lay bare all the tides and ties that lie buried for years, only to come home to roost when all the claws are bared and flared. Go to see a musical chamber piece that moves and shakes. Go to see some well-written characters and songs that make you forget you may have seen it all before.

Or, go and see if your selective memory has better filters than mine. I guarantee that it won’t make you long for your rose-colored childhood in Moscow.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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