Three American Jewish sisters, originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., gather in London to celebrate the birthday of the oldest sister Sara (Rosemary Dunsmore). Sounds like a recipe for a disaster, but quite the opposite unfolds.
Under Jim Warren’s insightful and skilful direction, Wendy Wasserstein’s comedy, The Sisters Rosensweig, presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, will be staged June 7 to 21 at Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre.
Wasserstein wrote The Sisters Rosensweig in 1993, against the tumultuous backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a rich play filled with articulate and humorous dialogue, yet there are serious undertones as most of the characters appear to be at a crossroads in their lives.
“The Sisters Rosensweig is very much about the characters’ search for their identity,” Warren says.
Warren is enthusiastic about the Toronto cast and refers to them as “smart, investigative actors who know how to uncover the layers.”
The story unfolds over the course of a weekend in late August 1991, at Sara’s home in Queen Anne’s Gate, a posh residential area close to Buckingham Palace. Throughout the weekend, the sisters lovingly push and pull each other, discussing their own lives, loves and desires.
Sara is a “handsome” 54-year-old woman who is a high-powered banker, extremely intelligent and a double divorcée. She spends much of her energy on her 17-year-old daughter, Tess (Sara Farb), and is determined to control Tess’ future, until Mervyn (Richard Greenblatt) a New York faux furrier and a potential love interest for Sara, enters the scene.
Pfeni (Sarah Dodd), Sara’s youngest sister, is an accomplished journalist, who has chosen travel writing as her current vocation. She is laid-back, open to new experiences and grapples with relationship with her bisexual boyfriend, a renown stage director, Geoffrey (Steve Cumyn).
Gorgeous (Linda Kash), the middle sister, makes a comedic entrance, wearing a fake Chanel suit and too much makeup. She is a Massachusetts’ wife of a “prominent attorney,” mother of four, and a radio show host. At first glance, Gorgeous appears to be frivolous and somewhat obnoxious, but as the play progresses, it becomes evident that she is desperately trying to keep up appearances, as her life back home crumbles beneath her fake designer shoes.
With humour and wit, the characters continuously challenge each other and themselves. “The characters are extremely intelligent and well-read, and they use their humour as armour to deflect what is really going on,” Warren says.
He loves the characters for their courage and ability to not give up. “ It’s not a sentimental play. These characters don’t whine or wallow in self-pity. They may be stuck for a while, but they get on with it and move forward.”
Although, the sisters’ dead mother, Rita, is not present on stage, her presence is undeniable in their lives. Alongside this maternal strong-hold is the conflicting relationship that the sisters have with their Jewish roots.
Sara has gone to extremes to shed her Jewish identity, by moving to Queen Anne’s Gate, where she tries hard to keep up a non-Jewish image and lifestyle. Pfeni travels around the globe, choosing to roam, rather than face her own reality, while Gorgeous tries to maintain the persona of the perfect Jewish woman from Massachusetts.
Despite the Jewish content of the play, audience members will be able to relate to the characters and their relationships, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, Warren says.
He attributes the universality of the play to Wasserstein’s brilliantly crafted and detailed script. “This is a piece that seems on the surface very funny, clever and witty, yet on further investigation, you see how much depth is in all of these characters, and how truthful and potentially moving and real this story is.”
The play is energetic and full of surprises. “You’re constantly surprised by what you think these people are. Nothing is tied up in a bow. You’re hopeful about a few relationships, but you really don’t know what is going to happen in the end.”
The Sisters Rosensweig is sure to have the audience thinking long after the curtain call.
The show previews from June 7, runs June 12 to 21, at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts, Jane Mallett Theatre. For tickets, call 366-7723 www.hgjewishtheatre.com