Theater Review: 'Sisters Three'

By: 
Ben Miles

When I first heard the title of Jami Brandli’s 90-minute one-act play, “Sisters Three,” I assumed it was a take-off on Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” As it turns out, it’s not. Instead, “Sisters Three” is a 21st century take and update on the 19th century’s Brontë sisters – the literary siblings, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Each is noted for their masterful accomplishments in literature: Charlotte for “Jane Eyre”; Emily for “Wuthering Heights”; Anne for “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”

Directed by Annie McVey, makes the most of a small stage in the snug VS. Theatre (the show is produced by The Inkwell Theater, a not-for-profit theater company whose mission is developing and staging new plays). The stagecraft cleverly engineered, accommodates the tiny theater space (Lex Gernon provides a realistic set design, with an unfinished canoe awkwardly placed center stage; Allison Dillard’s costuming is appropriately middlebrow; and the lighting, sound and props by Joey Guthman, John Zalewski and Rebecca Carr, respectively) are well in service of the place, pace and plot of this dense debut production of “Sisters Three.”

But the strength of this quirky modernized remembrance of the Brontë sisters lies in the performances of this trio of performers. Without a trace of vanity or inauthenticity, Dana DeRuyck portrays “EJ” (Emily Jane Brontë, whose only novel became the literary classic “Wuthering Heights,” which was published in 1847, a year prior to her death at age 29).

Brandli’s transplanting of the sisters’ lives to 2018 transforms EJ from a novelist to a mathematician at a university,; incidentally EJ’s a lesbian who, like Emily’s character, Cathy Earnshaw, in “Wuthering Heights,” longs to consummate a forlorn love affair. The offstage object of EJ’s affection may not even share EJ’s desire or orientation. Nevertheless, this (never seen) character is named Heather, in sly reference to Heathcliff, the roguish character from “Wuthering Heights.”

Anne, the youngest of the three sisters – fully embodied by physically dexterous and keenly timed Kara Hume – is a social media obsessive who aspires to be a professional publicist via tweeter and other cyber-age mediums. While Anne’s reach for PR success isn’t at all resulting in a fulfilling or sustaining grasp of her career ambitions, she’s clandestinely coexisting with EJ in single-room campus apartment, in violation of university regulations. What’s more, it’s implied that Anne may have had an incestuous bonding with an older brother, Branwell, who has recently committed suicide.

After an hour or so of thick exposition and cupcake baking (the carefully crafted micro-muffins are called “Rochesters,” a campy salutation to Mr. Rochester, the despondent Lord of Thornfield Hall wherein Jane is the governess in Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre”) the progressively vicious verbosity between EJ and Anne, turns the wordplay into (literal and precisely choreographed) swordplay.

But as the anachronistic conceit of these Brontës begins to lose dramatic momentum, switching rails from dramedy to absurdity, Charlotte unexpectedly appears at the door of EJ’s apartment. This Charlotte Brontë is played to scene-chewing heights and with demon-like delight by Robyn Cohen. Not that the insanity of this character, who has allegedly fled from a hippie commune, brings the show back on track; it does not. If any thing the play morphs further into the genre of theater of the absurd.

Still, the shear vitality and uniqueness of Cohen’s characterization of Charlotte reenergizes the staging and leaves us in the theater with an appreciation of the power of a performer to mesmerize an audience.

“Sisters Three” plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays through Jan. 20 (added performances at 8 p.m. on Mondays, Jan. 7 and 14). VS. Theatre is located at 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

For reservations call (310)551-0918. For online ticketing and further information visit www.inkwelltheater.com.

ben@beachcomber.news

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