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Monday, 07 February 2011 22:47

Three more sisters

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Three more sisters
westendplayers.org/John Lamb

The Memory of Water, a play about three English sisters, reminds me more of Beth Henley and the sisters in Crimes of the Heart than of Chekhov and his three sisters.

Playwright Shelagh Stevenson's sisters, reunited in their family home for their mother's funeral, fit into what seems to be the pattern for such trios. Mary is the successful M.D. with lots of untidiness in her life, including an affair with a married man. Teresa is the organized one, cleaning up after everyone else, a partner in a nutritional supplements business with her husband, assured and confident on the surface and deeply unhappy. Catherine is the youngest, clinging desperately to her rapidly passing youth and a victim – in her own eyes – of a series of failed romantic relationships.

I got a little tired of Catherine's complaining and of her silliness, excessive even for a pothead. That is, I got tired of Catherine as written. I did not get tired of Belinda Quimby, who is playing her in the West End Players Guild production and who is always a delight.

As Teresa, Leslie Wobbe gets to stretch out beyond the confines of her usual roles, and as usual she plays the part with an absolutely sure touch, including a perfectly calibrated drunk scene.

Suki Peters anchors the trio as Mary, the sister treated by the playwright with the greatest seriousness. Peters brings some fine shadings to her thoughtful performance.

Mary also receives visits from their recently deceased mother. I felt these ghostly encounters were largely unnecessary, giving us information about the sources of the sisters' inner and outer turmoil that is at least implicit in the rest of the play, and they grow tedious in their obvious reiteration of a mother's never-ending influence on her daughters. Meg Brinkley is stuck with playing this unattractive, often supercilious character, who is given lines that Brinkley, perhaps also struggling with an English accent, has trouble making sound natural.

Ben Ritchie smartly underplays the wrenching dilemmas of Mary's lover, and Chris M.R. Jones, as Teresa's personally and professionally frustrated husband, surprises with moments of hilarious physical comedy.

Director Tom Kopp designed the set for the mother's bedroom, decorated as the mother would have decorated it, lighted by Stephanie Draper. Vallerie Dillard's clever costumes tell you all about the characters the moment you see them. Joshua Cook's unobtrusive sound design repays noticing.

Shelagh Stevenson's The Memory of Water shows little originality but is often amusing. Under Tom Kopp's direction, it gets an even better production. It continues at the West End Players Guild in the Union Avenue Christian Church through Sunday afternoon, February 13, 2011. Information and tickets are online at www.westendplayers.org.

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