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Thursday, 06 December 2012 01:48

'The Night Season': Another three sisters

Written by Bob Wilcox
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'The Night Season': Another three sisters
news.wustl.edu

Something about a family of three sisters must fascinate playwrights, they pop up so often. Patrick Kennedy, the father of three daughters in Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Night Season, compares his three not to Chekhov's or Wendy Wasserstein's or Beth Henley's three but to King Lear's daughters.

Like some other Irishmen with a fondness for whiskey – and Patrick Kennedy is an Irishman with a fondness for whiskey – he likes to exaggerate the bleakness of things. His three daughters actually take quite good care of him, though I was never clear exactly what the source of their apparently adequate income was. It didn't appear to be Patrick.

The oldest sister, Judith, works as a librarian. She has a funny and sad scene with her father in which they get drunk together. The scene starts flat and then develops more and more interest. It was played with fine pace and rhythms, as was the whole of the recent production of The Night Season by Washington University's Performing Arts Department. Will Jacobs played the father and Rose Werth the daughter. Jacobs made the man's middle age convincing, though his Irish brogue, and maybe the whiskey, sometimes interfered with the clarity of his speech.

Werth had another touching scene with Connor McEvoy as Judith's on-again, off-again boyfriend.

Whatever the family's income, their establishment appears prosperous enough for a movie production company, in town to make a film about William Butler Yeats, to ask them to provide housing for the actor playing Yeats. Middle daughter Rose makes the young man more than welcome, spending his first night there in bed with him, though their romance is a bumpy one. Charles Morris's subtle playing of the actor keeps him something of an enigma. But Kiki Milner is wonderfully transparent to the happiness and hurt of Rose.

We never meet the unreliable, would-be-Communist boyfriend of the youngest sister, Maud. But Katie Jeanneret powerfully unleashes Maud's built-up resentment of the mother who abandoned the family when she was too young to remember her and of the sisters who hold on to something she doesn't have.

At the center of the stage in many scenes and at the center of the play in an odd way is that mother's mother, Lily. She lives with the family, who care for her. She's old, possibly dying, sometimes hallucinating, but still full of life and eager to live. It's a tough role for a young actor, and Phoebe Richards doesn't play the age and fragility of the character so much as the direct way she connects with the people around her; it's a kind of generous self-centeredness.

Robert Morgan's spare, flexible set hung some of the furniture on the wall, helping the crew of stage manager Abby Mros quckly and efficiently make multiple scene changes. Alex Francisci's lighting marked the changing settings, with sound by Simeng Zhu and props by Emily Frei. Laura Desch's costumes were so right for the people and place that you barely noticed them.

Under William Whitaker's sensitively calibrated direction, The Night Season paradoxically seemed both long yet never tedious, always drawing me into the lives unfolding before me.

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