Reviewed by Jessica Salans
The Primitive Stage
Through September 19
In Kimberly Demmary’s play, three half-sisters deal with the death of their mother and finally confront estranged feelings toward one another they have harbored since childhood. Agnes, the middle daughter, played by the play’s author, tries, enthusiastically, to bring her older and younger sisters together to settle their differences. Janet (Kathleen Bosworth), played with a buttoned up composure that finally cracks under the influence of alcohol, is the eldest who had to take the brunt of growing up quickly to deal with her mother’s drunken days and pandering evenings. On the other hand, the youngest daughter, Maggie, played by producer/director Julie Fergus, grew up with a mother who loved and coddled her, to the point of pitting Maggie against her older sisters. Agnes, meanwhile, received no kind of attention from her mother, affectionate or otherwise. By the end of the play, Agnes shares the final, harrowing secret of the sister set.
The estranged-sisters-dealing-with-death premise has been seen repeatedly in the theater, and plays like August: Osage County and And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little do a much leaner, more sophisticated job of creating dramatic tension that allows for biting, family humor.
The humor in Demmary’s play feels forced; there are times when the sisters come together as allies to reminisce, but the tales are so disconnected from anything we’ve seen prior that the moments are neither particularly funny nor tragically tender. The qualms the sisters have with one another are repeatedly expressed through berating — “brat” and “stupid” and “bitchy” — which don’t serve the intended poignancy of the family secrets to be later unveiled. Each climactic reveal begins with a similar, mundane disclosure such as “Do you want to know? I’ll tell you the truth,” so that these become repetitive and exhausting. The result has the feel of a therapy session on the stage.
The three are not bad actors, but perhaps the trio, having taken on multiple roles to get the production on its feet, would have benefited from a judicious, outside eye.
The Primitive Stage; 21610 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., September 13, 3 p.m.; through September 19. (818) 685-9907; www.theprimitivestage.com; Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.