'Sisters Rosenweig' bonds with the heart Theater: Fine Vagabond Players production captures the emptiness of stereotypes and the strength of sibling ties.

July 01, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Three is said to be a crowd, and there's plenty of friction whenever the three sisters in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" get together.

But director Miriam Bazensky's production at the Vagabond Players leaves no doubt that these three are also their own strongest support group. By the end of this warm, affirmative play, the bond between them is enough to make this only child wish for siblings.

The event that brings the three together is the 54th birthday of the oldest sister, Sara, an international banker living in London. On the surface the sisters are highly dissimilar. Sara -- played with intensity and brittleness by Celia Rocca -- is cold and, as she frequently points out, humorless.

The middle sister, Pfeni, is the eccentric member of the family -- a globe-trotting journalist given a spirited portrayal by Amy Jo Shapiro. Though considerably more outgoing and emotional than Sara, Pfeni is also running as fast as she can from commitment -- both romantic commitment and a commitment to the type of serious journalism she once practiced.

Both she and Sara seem far more serious, however, than their baby sister -- a Newton, Mass., radio psychologist billed as "Dr. Gorgeous," who is leading a tour of the crown jewels for her temple sisterhood. From her flashy designer knockoffs to her overly enthusiastic habit of describing everything as "funsy," Gorgeous seems the most stereotyped of the three.

In many ways, however, "The Sisters Rosensweig" is about bashing stereotypes. Gorgeous herself warns: "Don't make me into a cliche. I am much more than that." But while Bethany Brown does just fine depicting the flamboyant, superficial side of Gorgeous, she is somewhat less effective than Rocca and Shapiro at revealing the needy soul underneath.

Of the supporting performers, Rodney Bonds gives a moving portrayal of a New York "faux" furrier whose sincerity and intelligence defy the stereotype with which Sara tries to saddle him. And, as Sara's teen-age daughter, Tess, Nora Pierce lets this young woman's love and admiration for her mother shine through the requisite mother-daughter rivalry. Cheerful Tom Valiunus is also convincing as Tess' revolutionary, working-class boyfriend, but Tony Colavito lacks some of his usual bravado as Pfeni's love interest, the exuberant bisexual director of an international hit musical.

Wasserstein has acknowledged "The Sisters Rosensweig's" debt to Chekhov -- and to his yearning "Three Sisters" specifically -- in interviews as well as references in the script. But this heartwarming play also succeeds on its own terms.

Initially sure of just about everything, the sisters Rosensweig are actually uncomfortable with their own identities. That's something these seemingly disparate siblings have in common; overcoming it is what ultimately unites them -- a theme you don't have to have sisters to appreciate.

'The Sisters Rosesweig'

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 s. Broadway

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through July 21

Ticket: $9 and $10

Call: (410) 563-9135

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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