Reviewed by Judy Richter
The American theater suffered a great loss when playwright Wendy Wasserstein died of lymphoma on Jan 31 at the age of 55. Proof of that loss is apparent in TheatreWorks' smart, funny, touching production of her 1992 work, "The Sisters Rosensweig." Ironically, this was the only Wasserstein play that TheatreWorks hadn't yet produced. Only Shakespeare has made more appearances on its stage. In another ironic twist, it replaces the planned world premiere of "Pamela's First Musical," a musical on which Wasserstein was collaborating with composer Cy Colman based on her children's book of the same name. Her illness forced the project to be shelved, but the company hopes to find another writer to complete the work.
The play takes place over three days late August 1991 in the elegant London home (set by Joe Ragey with lighting by Chad Bonaker) of Sara Goode (Alison Edwards), an American divorcee who holds a high executive position with a Hong Kong bank. Joining Sara and her college-age daughter, Tess (Lindsay Benner) to celebrate Sara's 54th birthday are her two younger sisters, Pfeni Rosensweig (Rebecca Dines), an unmarried, globe-trotting journalist; and Gorgeous Teitelbaum (Carole Healey), a married mother who lives in a New York suburb and who dispenses psychological advice on her own radio show even though she's not a psychologist. Also joining the party are Geoffrey Duncan (Jeff Williams), Pfeni's bisexual but mainly gay boyfriend who's a successful theatrical director; and -- unexpectedly -- Geoffrey's friend Mervyn Kant (Michael G. Hawkins), a widower who provides fake furs for Geoffrey's shows.
Throughout the play, various characters refer to Sara as brilliant, but she's also brittle and somewhat bitter after two divorces. She has a male friend, Nicholas Pym (David E. Kazanjian), but despite his sophistication, he's clearly not for her. Tess calls him a Nazi because of his prejudices. When Merv, a genuinely nice man, expresses interest in Sara, she turns him away. It's apparent she's afraid to get close to anyone. However, thanks to her sisters, her daughter and the persistent Merv, she eventually drops some of her defenses. Likewise, Pfeni and Gorgeous make some progress in their lives mainly because of the strong bond among the three Jewish sisters. Even Tess gains more insight into herself, sending her good-hearted but unsuited boyfriend, Tom Valiunus (Chad Ryan Deverman), off to protests in Lithuania without her.
Director Robert Kelley has chosen his cast wisely, for all of the actors seem tailor-made for their roles. The women are especially noteworthy, as is Hawkins as Merv, but Williams can be a bit over the top as the flamboyant Geoffrey. Costumes by Cathleen Edwards and sound by Cliff Caruthers also make solid contributions.
One interesting aspect of this play is the way it pays tribute to the strength of the women in the Rosensweig family. Even though the sisters had their issues with their late mother, they pay tribute to her and tell Tess stories about their brave grandmother. Tess' intelligence and streak of independence show that the Rosensweig legacy is sure to be carried into another generation.