“Don’t make me into a cliché,” Gorgeous Teitelbaum says in her first scene in The Sisters Rosensweig. “I’m much more than that.” Gorgeous may not just be talking to her sisters—she may be speaking to the playwright who wrote the line.
The Sisters Rosensweig, a play written by Wendy Wasserstein and directed by Mary M. Finnerty. Presented through October 5 at Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul. For tickets ($15-$39) and information, see parksquaretheatre.org.
The play, written by Wendy Wasserstein, premiered in New York in 1992. It’s trapped by its caricatures. The characters are not people, but paper cut-outs of people. This might be fine if the play embraced its own superficiality—but no, these caricatures are placed in scenes where they are expected to relate to one another, emote, and sentimentalize. It turns out to be an utter failure, because cartoons don’t have feelings.
To make matters worse, in Park Square’s production of the play, the actors can’t decide on a style. Some of the actors, such as Angela Timberman, succeed by embracing the element of cliché in the script. Timberman is funny for most of the show, with her outrageous outfits, nasal voice, and ridiculous giggle. Other actors seem to reject the stereotypes altogether, which just makes the play seem dull. As Pfeni, Carolyn Pool misses opportunities for laughs by holding back in the comic scenes and then doesn’t redeem herself in the sentimental scenes, which fall flat for lack of emotional truthfulness. The most successful actor to ride the wave of the bipolar script is Michael Paul Levin, who plays Mervyn Kant. Levin fully realizes the comedy of his character while maintaining an element of authenticity in the emotional scenes.
Still, though it was poorly written and executed, the play’s concept is interesting. The script is an exploration in the fluid nature of culture and ethnicity. The three eponymous sisters were brought up in the same Jewish family in the same neighborhood, but each of them has found her own way to embrace (or reject) their common heritage. While Gorgeous married a “nice Jewish man” and still keeps her faith as a huge part of her daily life, Sara completely rejects all aspects of her upbringing. She has moved to London, adapted a British accent, and not only refuses to practice Jewish rituals, but also prevents others from practicing them in her home. Pfeni, on the other hand, is somewhere in between her two sisters. A free-spirited globe-trotting journalist, she lives a bohemian life but doesn’t deny her roots. Throughout the play, the sisters dispute one another and argue about the choices that they’ve made, but always come back to the fact that they love each other very deeply. It’s a nice idea, I guess.
The show is painfully awkward. Every single intimate moment seems forced. It’s as if you can see the blocking notes. There are a number of times in the play where two characters touch or embrace, but these moments come out of nowhere and lack truthfulness. I’m not saying the actors should somehow act more naturalistically, because with Wasserstein’s script, that would be an ill-advised strategy—but I wish that in their caricatures they could have acted with more honesty and spontaneity.
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.
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