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Sister Cities at T. Shreiber Studio

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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Sister Cities
By Colette Freedman
Directed by Cat Parker

Set Design: George Allison
Costume Design: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Design: Andrea Boccanfuso
Sound Design: Christopher Rummel
Production Coordinator: Gina Roché
Stage Manager/Fight Coordinator: Eliza Jane Bowman
Asst. Director: Frank Mihelich
Set Director: Carolyn Mraz
Technical Director: Rohit Kapoor
Production Photographer: Gili Getz
Publicity: Kate Rosin/Kampfire Films PR

Starring: Emberli Edwards as Dallas, Jamie Neumann as Baltimore,
Ellen Reilly as Carolina, Judith Scarpone as Mary,
Maeve Yore as Austin

At the
T. Schreiber Studio
(T. Schreiber Website)
151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor

Artistic Director: Terry Schreiber;
Associate Artistic Director: Peter Jensen;
Managing Director: Sally Dunn;
Producing Director: Cat Parker

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 9, 2007

The T. Schreiber Studio, established in 1969, is involved in training and developing actors and has an ongoing season of challenging plays that support the actors in the incipient stages of their careers. The faculty is made up of veteran actors and professionals, under the guidance of Terry Schreiber, who create unique teaching methods for each theatrical trainee. The Faculty members are Terry Schreiber, Peter Jensen, Page Clements, Sally Dunn, Julie Garfield, Diane Miner, Peter Miner, Susan Pilar, Carol Reynolds, Pam Scott, Lynn Singer, Tracy Trevett, and Robert Verlaque. (Program Notes).

As the audience arrives in 1999 Poughkeepsie, at the realistic and richly detailed set of Sister Cities, we see part of ourselves. We see Matroshka dolls on a shelf, with the largest lying on its side, a silver trophy, a book titled “100 Years of Solitude”, a Degas dancer print, porcelain china, a pine dining set, and potholders. Slowly and seamlessly the plot unfolds, as four daughters of a deceased mother, all named for the state or cities of their birth (each was born of a different father), grapple with the emotional needs of each other and the logistical needs of their mother’s body. Mary, the offstage mother, until Act II’s flashback monologue, had, as we eventually learn, ALS, a debilitating and deteriorating disease, and the story line evolves to one of the ethics of assisted suicide, and the strength of renewed sibling bonds.

The first of four half-sisters is Maeve Yore, as Austin, the daughter who remained at home with her mother, while she sought her writing muse once again, while she nursed and cared for her mother (visibly in the Act II flashback), and while she fulfilled her mother’s final request and phoned her sisters to rush home for a funeral. The plot thickens around that fulfillment of Mary’s final request. Ms. Yore portrays this lonely, conflicted daughter, who is also gay, as many layered, cautious, and eventually the most mature. Her face is a study in well-kept secrets. The second half-sister is Ellen Reilly, as Carolina, a recently divorced lawyer, sophisticated and self-righteous, who, when she literally lets her hair down and removes pantyhose, relaxes into a giving, vulnerable, supportive sibling. Ms. Reilly shifts personas with aplomb.

The third half-sister is Emberli Edwards, as Dallas, a blond, elegant, married private schoolteacher, who lets loose with a secret that even her husband does not know. Tellingly, she is not as secure as first personified. The fourth half-sister, and the most dynamic, is Jamie Neumann, as Baltimore, a buoyant, bouncy Harvard freshman sociology major, who is a study in pop dress and culture, uninhibited, and a woman with her own secret about college. And, although onstage only for a portion of Act II, Judith Scarpone, as the flashback Mary, a severely ailing mother, who cannot feel her limbs or muscles, whose hands are stilled, and who fights against the clock for dignity in death, is a remarkable and resonating actor. The audience remained transfixed throughout her persuasive dialogue with Austin and her lengthy monologue from a chair.

One interesting nuance was the careful mixing of vodka with Java Juice at the beginning of the play and the one bottle of vodka held by each sister at the end of the play. The four half-siblings had figuratively, and, somewhat literally, undressed each other to know truth about each other and themselves, and, in so doing, drank with abandon. They also, in many ways, became more like Mary, their communal mother, who lived life to its fullest with no regrets. In her monologue, Mary confided that she put herself to sleep by counting her lovers.

Maeve Yore, Emberli Edwards, Jamie Neumann,
Ellen Reilly in "Sister Cities"
Photo Courtesy of Gili Getz

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