Monday, June 10, 2013

THE CHERRY SISTERS REVISITED • R-S Theatrics

R-S begins its season with Dan O’Brien's The Cherry Sisters Revisited.  The play, inspired by the real-life Cherry Sisters, was part of the 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2010.  These five Iowa farm girls formed a vaudeville act in the 1890's and eventually became renown.  For being completely talentless.  Once the Cherry sisters took their show on the road, it gained a reputation for being an absolute train wreck.  This propelled the sisters, schadenfreude style, to the Olympia Theatre on Broadway where they were greeted with jeers, catcalls and "truck-garden bouquets" of thrown vegetables.

The Cherry sisters included Effie (Rachel Tibbetts), our narrator and the biggest dreamer of the five, Lizzie (Mollie Amburgey), the pretty one, Addie (Beth Wickenhauser), the witty one who wrote most of the act, Jessie (Ellie Schwetye) the tightly wound but caring mother figure and Ella (Nicole Angeli), the mentally addled one.  There's also Pops (B. Weller), the drunken patriarch of the Cherry family who, though found dead at the beginning of the play, makes appearances to insult his daughters throughout.  In fact, the opening lines from Effie are, "Do you believe in ghosts?  You in the audience?  Because you’re looking at one".  This line sets an almost eerie tone from the get go, but then quickly plunges into Effie's recollections of her peculiar family.

(Top) Mollie Amburgey (Lizzie),
Beth Wickenhauser (Addie), Nicole Angeli (Ella),
Rachel Tibbetts (Effie) and Ellie Schwetye (Jessie).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Their act consisted of bizarre songs (a song about corn juice, anyone?), melodramatic plays usually involving pronounced dialects, and sometimes a homily from Jessie.  Encouraged by polite home town applause, the sisters worked on honing their act, "Something Good, Something Sad", and prepared to take it on the road.  As the act became more and more infamous traveling from town to town, they took up with an "agent", also named Pops, and also played by Weller.  The opportunity to see something so dreadfully bad tends to draw a crowd, and before long the Cherry sisters found themselves on the Great White Way, playing to standing room only houses.  Because Pops (the agent) deceptively told the girls that the responses from the audience were probably the result of jealous competition, they remained clueless about true public opinion, and disregarded negative press.  At one point, a mesh netting had to be erected to protect the sisters from the barrage of everything from rotten vegetables to chairs.

(From top, left to right) Ellie Schwetye (Jessie),
B. Weller (Pops), Mollie Amburgey (Lizzie),
Beth Wickenhauser (Addie), Rachel Tibbetts (Effie)
and Nicole Angeli (Ella).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Kirsten Wylder, making her professional directorial debut, was able to achieve a nice balance with a challenging play, drawing out the simultaneous laughter, pity and sadness it offers.  The sisters have good chemistry with each other, and along with Weller, they make the most of their individual moments and illustrate well-defined characters.  Schwetye is very funny as Jessie, especially when she goes off on the audience for being impolite.  Wickenhauser was also comical as Addie, with her bad jokes and fake accents, but the biggest laughs went to Angeli as the slow sister Ella.  Her facial expressions were priceless, evoking both chuckles and sympathy.  Liz Henning does a great job with the costume design, and Scott De Broux's rural scenic design complements the action along with Maria I. Straub's choreography and Leah Luciano's musical direction.

There's an unusual oscillation between humor and sadness in this play, and you might feel a little guilty about laughing at the Cherry sisters, but like a car-wreck, you'll probably find it impossible to look away.  It's playing until the 16th.


THE CHERRY SISTERS REVISITED

Book by Dan O’Brien
Music by Michael Friedman
Directed by Kirsten Wylder
through June 16 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Mollie Amburgey (Lizzie), Nicole Angeli (Ella), Ellie Schwetye (Jessie), Rachel Tibbetts (Effie), Beth Wickenhauser (Addie) and B. Weller (Pops).

Creative:
Costume design by Liz Henning; scenic design by Scott De Broux; sound design by Mark Kelley; choreography by Maria I. Straub; musical director, Leah Luciano; stage manager, Heather Tucker.

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