Rich in theatrical allusions and as pregnant with satire and humor as a Chekhov or a Shaw play, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig ripples with laughter as it pricks the soul. This 1992 follow up to Wasserstein’s Tony Award-winning The Heidi Chronicles still—surprisingly—seems relevant. Characters fret about the disparity of wealth, the class struggle, the fate of Islamic women, the flexing of Russian political might, and ways to pay for haute couture in a recession. Less globally and more locally, the play offers laughs with its insights on sisters, lovers, men, and the intersections where they collide. Capital Repertory Theatre’s current production offers five stellar performances in the three sisters who love and loathe each other, and in the two men who try mightily to love them back.
Set in a posh apartment in Queen Anne’s Gate,London—James Noone has created a sterling set of wainscoting, dark hardwood floors, and rose cabbage wallpaper—the play is a day in the life of the eldest Rosensweig sister, serial bride Sara Goode (Marcy McGuigan) on her 54th birthday. The alienated atheist plays brittle host to her visiting-for-the-day sisters: the youngest, Pfeni (Bernadette Quigley), and the narcissistic and aptly named Gorgeous (Yvonne Perry). McGuigan, as Sara, has a focus that brings out the creases and crispness of the character; Quigley smartly keeps a tight rein on the wandering Pfeni; and Perry lets Gorgeous soar on flights of ego and status-fueled excess, as in her tirade on breaking the heel of a Manolo Blahnik.
As the sisters come and go dropping insights, suggestions and complaints—and other white whine—their men do likewise. These are Geoffrey Duncan (a peppery Richard Hollis, channeling BBC stalwart Graham Norton), who is in love with Pfeni as faithfully and fully as a British celebrity stage director and bisexual can be, and an ex-furrier turned “synthetic animal protective covering” salesman named Mervyn Kant (a wise and funny Douglas Rees). The various duets, trios, quartets, and solos the five create, dissolve, and reform under director Michael Bush’s clear eye and well-tuned ear serve play and audience well.
And a well-tuned ear is needed for The Sisters Rosensweig, for not only do Geoffrey and Pfeni drop in quotes from Chekhov and Shakespeare—Geoffrey does a brilliant performance of Viola’s “I left no ring with her” soliloquy from Twelfth Night while bouncing on a sofa dressed in T-shirt and turquoise briefs—but snippets of 13 songs form the spine of the play. The little touches of song and dance, like Mervyn and Sarah dancing to Sinatra singing “The Way You Look Tonight” as Act 1 closes, or Geoffrey and Pfeni singing and dancing to “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” as Act 2 opens, are the glue that hold the play together.
As Geoffrey bittersweetly confesses in his last line, “I think I have a crush on all the sisters Rosensweig.” After seeing Capital Repertory’s current production, you’d have to have a cold heart and a dim brain indeed if you didn’t, too.