Theater Review: 'The Sisters Rosenweig'

By: 
Ben Miles

The late, great dramatist Wendy Wasserstein, who died at age 55 in 2006, was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for drama for her breakthrough play “The Heidi Chronicles.”

Now Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory is staging Wasserstein’s lesser known and less acclaimed 1992 semi-autobiographical “The Sisters Rosenweig”; under the strained direction of Casey Stangl, Wasserstein’s latter 20th century “Sisters” (there are three of them) has the echo if not the inspiration of Chekhov’s early 20th century “The Three Sisters.”

Wasserstein’s “Rosenweigs” has the loquaciousness of Chekhov’s writing but the drama is not adequately mined and the production seems plagued by longueurs and pacing problems. Nonetheless, the cast of eight is devoted to fulfilling Wasserstein’s two-hour-forty and minutes (including one fifteen-minute intermission) worth of dialogue with credible if not memorable characterizations (some editing would aid the action). 

Sara (coldly played be Amy Aquino) is the oldest of the Rosenweig siblings; she’s an expatriate and banking executive who now, after a couple of failed marriages, resides in digs at London’s plush Queen Anne’s Gate (John Iacovelli’s elegant set design is candy for the eyes) with her about-to-go-to-college daughter Tess (ably embodied by Emily James). It is the occasion of Sara’s 54th birthday and her sisters, Pfeni, a journalist who’s now a travel writer (Betsy Brandt in a quite natural performance), and Gorgeous, the middle child in this familial trifecta, whose claim to fame is as radio personality who dishes out advice on the Boston airwaves under the faux moniker Dr. Gorgeous(an energetic and energizing portrayal by Eleanor Reissa).

On display is the disappointment of expectations when longtime friend and bisexual theater director, Geoffrey (a scene-snatching Bill Brochtrup), cannot live up the the idea of being a husband to Pheni (Wasserstein’s alter ego); Gorgeous’s life advice proves to be little more than clichés dressed in exuberance; and Sara, having gone through a recent surgery for “female trouble,” ends up falling or settling for the advances of an obnoxious furrier from American named Mervyn Kant, who’s neither as intellectual nor as philosophical as his last name might suggest (a serviceable characterization by Matthew Arkin).

Also, Julian Stone is believable as Nicholas, a retrograde politician whose underwritten role gives insight into Sara’s dismal love life; and equally underwritten is Riley Neldam’s minor part as Tom, Tess’s leftist love interest, supposedly providing a radical counterpoint to Nicholas’s conservative political positions.

In the end what little comfort that is discovered by the sisters Rosenweig is in their own triangle of sisterly love and the memories and the traditions of their Jewish heritage that keep them forever bonded to one another. That’s sweet but not dramatically sustaining.

 “The Sisters Rosenweig”continues through June 2. Evening performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., with Sunday evening performances at 7:30 p.m.

South Coast Repertory is located in Costa Mesa at 655 Town Center Drive.

For reservations call (714)708-5555. For online ticketing and further information visit scr.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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