This may be the moral of the late Wendy Wasserstein's 1992 play The Sisters Rosensweig, now in production at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre. The story of three grown sisters who come together for the eldest's birthday is witty and charming, but (as is often the case with Wasserstein) it's also a little long, and a little narrow in its appeal. Still, the JET's production has some genuinely funny and heartfelt moments that, despite some of its inherent problems, make it a generally pleasant evening at the theatre.
The play takes place in 1991 on ex-pat and rock-star banker Sara Rosensweig-Goode's (played by Sandra Birch) 54th birthday. Her sisters (Pheni the nomad played by Kristin Condon and Gorgeous the perfect suburban wife played by Emily Rose), daughter (the ever-idealistic and opinionated Tess played by Madison Deadman) and friends gather to celebrate, since her recent "female illness" had prevented her from attending her mother's funeral earlier in the year. Pheni's bisexual boyfriend Geoffrey (Lindel Salow) invites his supplier of synthetic furs, Mervyn Kant (Phil Powers) to join them for dinner, and he turns out to be more than Sara bargained for. As each woman is forced to face up to her own personal challenges, she finds strength in the other women Rosensweig... and of course, in herself.
Artistic Director David Magidson helmed this production with technical grace. His blocking makes this sprawling space feel like a familiar home, and he does a good job of creating a relatable family vibe. The show is long, and there are moments when the pace drags, but for the most part Magidson handled this fairly talky, idea-heavy play well. Wasserstein's plays always come with the problem of being about a very tiny slice of privileged society, and can come off a little inaccessible, but Magidson found enough of the humanity in the play to avoid this trap for the most part.
The title sisters were a powerful trio, whose distinct personalities set themselves apart and yet managed to connect them as well. As Sara Goode, Sandra Birch is a lovely presence. She is tough and vulnerable in all the right places, and her inner turmoil is clear and human. Kristin Condon's portrayal of Pheni is charming and strong, with a delicate balance of free spirit and homebody that produced one of my favorite performances of the evening. And Emily Rose's Gorgeous Teitelbaum thundered about the stage like a brightly colored, stylish freight train - and I do mean that in the nicest way possible. The sisters felt like different people, but the idea that they could have come from the same mother was also very clear. As Sara's daughter Tess, Madison Deadman made the stage her own. And her final moment with Sara - a lovely mother-daughter connection - put an excellent cap on the evening. Lindel Salow as the flamboyant Geoffrey sometimes seemed to be pushing a little too hard, but he did have some really lovely, honest moments with Pheni that kept me in his court. Phil Powers as Mervyn Kant met the hefty task of going toe to toe with Birch's Sara with a great deal of charm, making his Merv's tenacity and ease attractive and empathetic. Eric Eilersen had promise as Tess's activist, lower-class London boyfriend, and but for his extremely muddy dialect, was ultimately as cute and out of place as he needed to be. John Forman as right-wing tycoon Nicholas Pym was every bit the uptight Brit, but never quite managed to make his presence felt among the other strong personalities on stage.
It pains me to consider a piece from the 1990s to be a period piece, but in many ways (not only the specific references to the fall of the Soviet Union), this is a play that is very much of its time. Scenic Designer Jennifer Maiseloff and Prop Designer Diane E. Ulseth worked together effectively to create this posh London home. Neil Koivu's simple lighting design and Matthew Lira's sound design both worked well (though I wish the 'Cliffe Cleffs had sounded a little better). And Mary Copenhagen's costumes put the cherry on the 1990s cupcake, planting us in time, and deepening the characters. The costumes during the birthday party were particularly vibrant, fun, and communicative.
If you have the time, and the patience for a bit of intellectual and idealistic meandering - with some genuine humanity and a little bit of romance tossed in for just enough sweetness - The Sisters Rosensweig is ultimately a fine way to spend an evening. And there isn't even a pop quiz about the Concert of Europe at intermission...
The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein (Director: David Magidson; Sara Goode: Sandra Birch; Tess Goode: Madison Deadman; Pheni Rosensweig: Kristin Condon; Geoffrey Duncan: Lindel Salow; Mervyn Kant: Phil Powers; Gorgeous Teitelbaum: Emily Rose; Tom Valiunus: Eric Eilersen; Nicholas Pym: John Forman) continues at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre through October 20th. For more information, visit http://www.jettheatre.org/.