When it comes to Northern Light Theatre’s mandate of dark and provocative productions that challenge audiences, Sister Sister delivers and satisfies.
Playwright Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich’s script about two sisters’ reconnection after 15 years sets a grim theme, as the women come together to celebrate their deranged mother’s death.
Louise Claire Lambert’s performance as Janice and Arielle Rombough’s as Dirdra are both superb, exceptionally dark, yet frequently and comically over the top.
Though a familiarity with familial relationships as horrifically strained as Dirdra and Janice’s isn’t a common experience, the quips between the sisters easily reach the intimate believability of two estranged siblings—and then some.
Their blithe retorts to one another’s half-truths and attempts at one-upmanship flit off their tongues. It creates a hypnotic cadence that steadily shifts with the dialogue and accelerates to shocking reveals, double takes, and story beats dozens of times throughout the 75-minute, one-act show.
Never has commiseration been so awkwardly challenging to observe. Dirdra’s clinging to every inch of the carpeted walls of the set and her hysterical sobs while recalling past traumas planted an ache in my stomach. Janice’s anguished face as she wrestles her sister into a full nelson hold gave me chills.
Beyond the powerful delivery of the actresses, the stage production deserves major credit for setting the dark mood. Floor lighting bathes every nook of the carpet and wall textures in spooky light. The gently shifting glare of the overhead lights illuminate everything from the fur on Dirdra’s jacket, to the flares of Janice’s bell-bottoms. No iota of space on the minimalist but effective set goes unused. The design effectively rips the audience back to the late 20th century, when CRT TVs anchored living rooms, square plastic rimmed glasses framed faces sporting bob cuts, and lace doilies decorated the top of every chesterfield.
Watching Rombough and Lambert’s back and forth is exhausting, but only because their ludicrous discussion commands your attention. Subtle behavioural quirks as well as stark recounts of the sisters’ past help vividly paint the picture of their mother.
Though never once present on stage, the mother’s existence is palpable through her daughters. Trevor Schmidt’s directing of the sisters actions helps reveal countless nuances about the mother’s character. The sister’s twisted attempts at trying to reconcile their mom’s insanity with her love is a lurching experience that is a must see this theatre season.
With characters that are at once horrifying and demanding of sympathy, Sister Sister challenges the audience to see elements of their own relationships that may appear within the show, however scary that may be. It’s not a comfortable experience, but it’s one well worth having.