Characters don’t get much realer than the ladies who populate Woman Seeking . . .’s production of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belle Soeurs (The Beautiful Sisters). This late-’60s Canadian play has been transported to a small New England town, but unhappiness knows no boundaries and no time frame. The play is fairly programmatic and rather lumpy -- although much of it is funny, it’s not quite comic; and while some of it borders on tragic, it’s too satirical to be drama. As inhabited by Woman Seeking . . .’s terrifically talented cast, the pain and despair of the women who fill Germaine’s kitchen are all too real -- and yeah, sometimes funny.
Friends and relatives have gathered to help Germaine (Sarah Beth Jackson) lick the one million trading stamps she’s won into the books that can be exchanged for anything in the prize catalog. And Germaine has big plans for it all, even as she doesn’t see the resentment and bitterness that’s swirling around her. Most of that revelation is shared with the audience, interrupting the neighborhood gossip (judgmental and rude -- the best kind!) with recitals of the banal incidents of their “stupid rotten life.” And so it is -- these are women whose only hope of escaping their humdrum, demeaning lives is to score big in a contest. And they play them all -- word games, lucky numbers, puzzles, bingo, anything to give them hope that there’s a silver lining to their drudgery. But each time one of them announces how well she did in a competition, her response to the inevitable question “But did you win anything?” is the equally inevitable “Do I look like someone who won anything?” And thanks to Deb Guston’s direction, the line, as delivered by one woman after another, is funny, even as each actress uses it to reveal the acute heartbreak underneath. Reveals to the audience, anyway -- these women are far too involved with their own unhappiness to pay much attention to anyone else’s.
The plot, such as it is, mainly involves the women telling each other bits of their lives as they steal as many stamps as they’re pasting in the books. It also moves from soap opera into a blithe endorsement of communism, and even indulges in an unexpected bit of anti-Americanism (the women singing “America the Beautiful” at the end is too bitter to be humorous).
The set (by Dan Jacoby and Heide B. Andersson) was a good approximation of a run-down, unhappy kitchen; Evan O’Brient’s lighting set off each characters’ confessional well, and Melanie Blythe and Lauren Casgren-Tindall’s costumes captured each character’s hopes and dreams and reality.
Thankfully, the cast was solid and continually interesting, so much so that there was hope for the play even as it let them down. Particularly strong turns were delivered by Stephanie Hepburn, Amy Bizjak, Jane Purcell Dashow, and Christine Mosere, with good work by everyone else -- Kate Place, Sarah Beth Jackson, Ann Parker, Robyn Hatcher, Christine D’Alonzo McGovern, Helene Galek, Mary Anna Principie, Emily Alpren, Blanche Cholet, Vivian Meisner, and Ruth Jaffe, who was funny/sad/tragic while confined to a wheelchair, without any lines at all.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler