Terse, well-executed and poignant, Sweeter Theater’s production of Sympathetic Division effectively parallels neuroscience with familial and spousal relationships to illustrate how a smart couple’s drawn-out unraveling deeply affected their daughters.
Reviewed by Ilena George
Caught between her cold neuroscientist professor father and her mentally unstable mother, Julie (Colleen Allen) is a wise-beyond-her-years academic over-achiever who provides her family with a degree of stability, at a high personal cost. Encouraging her dyslexic sister Charlotte (Robyn Frank) to apply to college, handling her father George’s (Ron Stetson) estrangement, and monitoring her mother Sheila’s (Charlotte Patton) medication takes its toll, and Julie turns to prescription meds to cope. The action flips backwards and forwards in time, and each scene is introduced by the research topic members of the family were pursuing at the time.
The narrative is predicated partly on the conceit that neurological phenomena correspond to human interactions. For instance, divorce is compared to splitting apart the two hemispheres of the brain, accomplished by severing the nerve bundle that connects them. This generally works quite well as it also illustrates the family’s difficulty toeing the line between brain function (and dysfunction) as an academic exercise and as a brutal reality.
The minimal set, consisting of lecterns, a table, and chairs, complemented with several props, allows the pace to remain fast and the transitions smooth. Summer Lee Jack’s costumes, including a bow-tied and argyle socks-wearing professor’s uniform, help establish the time frame as well as the ages of the characters.
Although not all the cast’s performances were on the level of Ms. Allen’s, the playwright’s realistic dialogue and the ensemble’s restraint keeps the action from verging into melodrama. As part of the Midtown Theater Festival, the show was staged in the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, where the denouement physically unfolds almost too close for comfort but in an emotionally honest way that compels you not to look away.
Sympathetic Division by Gia Marotta
Directed by Maura Farver
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (312 W. 36th Street)
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.