Sister Week: Sugar and Spice,
and Pretty Darn Nice
Sister Week, the engaging new play by Heather McCutchen, tells the story of four sisters whose first reunion together in several years revives and revises their long-standing relationships. Their feelings and memories encompass a full gamut of emotions which will ring true to all who have had sibling relationships or parented them. There is nothing startling or new intended here. It is simply a gentle comedy-drama for those looking for a warm, pleasant evening in the theatre which respects, but does not challenge, their intelligence.
The writing is not generic. There is specificity in the situation and characters, even a very light touch of a ghost story. The play is set in the Macon, Georgia house of baby sister Sally, who was abandoned long ago by her philandering husband. She lives here with her 18-year-old son and their housekeeper. While on a visit from Atlanta, her domineering eldest sister Kitty opens a door to the attic. Boxes rain down upon her in Fibber McGee and Molly fashion, causing Kitty to discover that Sally is a pack rat who has stowed there all the detritus of her entire life. Sally has also retained the leavings of their Aunt Chrysanthemum from whom she had inherited the house some twenty years earlier.
Determined to revitalize the backward looking Sally, Kitty surreptitiously summons their sisters, twins May and June, from their respective New England homes for aid and support. Their arrival marks the start of Sister Week which is actually a massive spring “clean out” project.
The pleasure of the evening lies in the characters’ interactions, and to say more would only serve to diminish the pleasure of discovering them in the theatre.
Director Margo Whitcomb has elicited lovely performances from her ensemble. Carolyn Popp’s Sally is the focal point of the play’s activity and seems to have the largest share of stage time. However, with the strong support of Whitcomb and author Heather McCutchen, Popp gracefully and generously tailors her performance so as to allow the feelings and personalities of her three sisters to feel equally important to the audience. Sally does a lot of growing up over the course of the play, and Popp’s layered performance allows us to delight in it.
Mary Ethel Schmidt’s Kitty manages to engage our hearts without compromising on her prickly, domineering side. The well cast Maria Brodeur and Becky Engborg achieve fine chemistry together as May and June. Being twins, their sibling jealousy and rivalry as well as easy affection are heightened. At the same time, these well off, attractive ladies have an ease about them which has been denied to their other sisters.
Betty Hudson is on the mark as Mary Martha, the headstrong housekeeper who actually runs the household as the curtain rises. Jack Moran is smooth and easy as Jay Jay, Sally’s rapidly maturing son. I do wish that author McCutchen had told us a little more about Kitty’s history and life in Atlanta. For that matter, I would have liked to know more about Sally’s daily routine and financial situation. Instead, McCutchen too often places Mary Margaret, who is more peripheral to the story, front and center. These are easily remedied flaws in a mostly solid piece of work.
The set design by Will Rothfuss is not a positive. Two angular, narrow, and jaggedly edged backdrops represent different areas of the house. When the play opens and the lights come up on the tumble of boxes which has just fallen from the attic, the set made me instantly conjecture that a natural disaster (earthquake or tornado) had occurred. There is a second setting for the final scene. Depicting the house attic, it is quite lovely, but seems to unnecessarily employ resources which could have been better employed to enhance the design throughout the rest of the play.
In 2003, Heather McCutchen developed Sister Week during Centenary’s Women Playwrights workshop. In its current full Centenary production, Sister Week delivers solid proof of the program’s considerable value.
Sister Week continues performances through March 13 (Thurs. at 7:30 PM; Fri. & Sat. at 8 PM; Sun. at 2:30 PM; & student performance. Wed. 3/9 at 11 AM.) at the Centenary Stage Company on campus at Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840; box office: 908-979-0900; on-line: www.centenarystageco.org
Sister Week by Heather McCutchen; directed by Margo Whitcomb Cast (in order of appearance): Kitty ......... Mary Ethel Schmidt
Sally ........... Carolyn Popp
Mary Martha .......... Betty Hudson
Jay Jay .......... Jack Moran
May .......... Maria Brodeur
June .......... Becky Engborg
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- Bob Rendell