(Part of the Undergroundzero Festival)
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
The Sistahs by Harrison Rivers is a one-act play that explores the relationship of two sisters trying to keep their mother alive by adhering to the many adages she used to instruct them before she passed away. Set in rural Kansas, their connection is immediately established by strong actresses Jehan O. Young (Retha) and Alison Weisgall (Nina), but the flurry of proverbs used to introduce them in the beginning makes them standoffish at first. Luckily, Rivers chooses to disengage from this format by segueing into a straight narrative. The distinction in their races (Young is African-American, Weisgall is Caucasian-American) is not directly addressed in the play, so it is difficult to determine whether the sisters share blood ties or even if that's a matter of importance.
The direction by Matt Torney is precise, but makes the characters' movements appear slightly unnatural in certain spots. The character George (Ryan McGlone), the object of both sisters' affections, is introduced as obliquely as they were, appearing on stage like a phantom, and going into soliloquies about the uselessness of mothers. That alone creates his role as a foe, but when he divides the sisters in affection, it further cements his status. Nina wants George, George, wants Retha, Retha is torn.
Shame washes over both of their faces, Nina because of George's rejection and Retha due to inexperience, but each actress handles this emotion uniquely and succinctly. Although there is no chemistry between McGlone and Young, due largely in part to McGlone's awkwardness with romance, the passionate scene between them is rightfully clumsy. George has the most eloquent lines of the three, sharing his feelings on Freud and the ability of unfulfilled desire to shape a human being.
The Sistahs is a bittersweet story about bridled love and desire with a future ending that should not have been disclosed. Although the fate of the characters would have been better left unsaid, Rivers reveals a knack for heartfelt drama with the events that lead to it.
Why's He Drinking Coffee? by Josh Koenigsberg is a comedy about the worlds of blue collar and white collar colliding to hilarious and ominous effect. When Pete the mechanic (Josh Sauerman, stealing everything from Karl Childers in Sling Blade) decides to have his coffee in the office, trucking dispatchers Phil (Adam Radford) and Anita (Alison Weisgall) must share their space with the help, to their amusement and dismay, respectively.
There is a great dynamic between Anita and Phil in the beginning, and the addition of Pete into the equation only amplifies their idiosyncrasies and acting craft. The cast is fully committed to their characters, and deliver performances that are sharp and entertaining. Although Sauerman is too young for Pete's voice and demeanor, he has great showmanship. Weisgall's disgust vibrates throughout her whole body, and Phil's logic is foolhardy, but also commonplace.
When Pete's blood ties to a famous writer are revealed, it is both comical of Anita's character and accusatory of her lack thereof to warm to him. She quickly founds out, however, that this warming inspires a closeness to him that she's not prepared to deal with.
Koenigsberg's dialogue is relaxed with great media references that are fun to discern. He builds tension in his scenes well, and releases it with equal ability.
Apart from a shared actress (Alison Weisgall) and a shared director (Matt Torney), the themes for The Sistahs and Why's He Drinking Coffee? are not linked. However, they each succeed remarkably well, with Koenigsberg's contribution having the edge.
July 21st at 5pm and July 26 at 7:30pm. $15. 279 Church Street,
NYC, NY 10013 Tickets: 212.352.3101Venue: 212.254.5277
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.