The Sisters Rosensweig Takes Stage at Northport’s Bare Bones Theater

The Sisters Rosensweig
Caption: (L. to r.) Susan Stein, Jacqueline Misholy and Christine Nelson in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, now playing at Northport’s Bare Bones Theater Company (Photo by Jeannie Powers).

In its choice of plays, Northport’s Bare Bones Theater Company has always marched to a different drummer. Theatergoers looking for cutting edge entertainment and spectacular performances from a plethora of Long Island-based actors will find this and so much more in Bare Bones’ latest production, The Sisters Rosensweig, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 28.

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Wendy Wasserstein, an immensely talented playwright, is best known for The Wendy Chronicles, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play in 1989. She continued her examination of women’s issues which mirrored her own personal struggles in The Sisters Rosensweig, which made its Broadway debut in ’93 and broke with tradition with its focus on the identity crises of three Jewish American middle-aged women. The Sisters Rosensweig won the Outer Critics Circle award for Best Broadway Play the year it debuted.

Sadly, the theatrical world lost one of its brightest stars with Wasserstein’s untimely 2006 death from cancer at age 55.

The play is an exploration of the complicated dynamics between three very different siblings who come together to celebrate the 54th birthday of Sara Goode, the oldest sister. The play alternates between the serious and the comedic, but always shines with the wit and insight for which Wasserstein was known. There is a lot of truth bandied about in Wasserstein’s work, so the audience shouldn’t be surprised if they recognize situations they’ve experienced or observed.

The play is set in ’91 during a difficult time for the three women, who are not only mourning the loss of their mother, Rita, but their now tarnished youthful dreams. As their stories unfold on the cusp of the demise of the Soviet Union, the sisters’ time together will also turn out to be one of upheaval, and the stark realization that at one level or another they lost sight of themselves and their identities.

The birthday celebration takes place at Sara’s London home, where she lives with her daughter, Tess. Although Sara, an expatriate, has broken a major glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to manage the Hong Kong Bank of Europe, she is far from happy. Her second ex-hubbie is on his fifth wife and the two-time divorcee bemoans being a member of “the wives of Kenneth Goode” club.  Although quite attractive, she has been so seared by life that  the cold, bitter woman has admittedly has turned her back on her family, religion and homeland.

The youngest sister is Pfeni, a travel writer who is constantly (and perhaps compulsively) traipsing across the globe. She’s in a relationship of the approach-avoidance variety with Geoffrey Duncan, an outrageously flamboyant bisexual theater director who describes himself as a “closet heterosexual.” To add to the fun, at one point he prances around the living room in his underwear!

The middle sister is Gorgeous Teitelbaum, a gregarious, self-involved housewife with traditional values who paints a rose-colored portrait of her family life in the Boston suburbs. To add to her “funsy” outlook on life, she has reinvented herself as Dr. Gorgeous, and dispenses advice on a radio talk show.

The dilemma faced by 17-year-old Tess, the most grounded of the women, is whether she should accompany her Lithuanian boyfriend, Tom, to his homeland to support its struggle for independence.

Wasserstein’s plays don’t end up with conventional fairytale happy endings. Instead they   resonate with possibility and change, which in this case waltzes through the door with the serendipitous arrival of Merv Kant. Merv, a friend of Geoffrey’s, has coincidentally broken a glass ceiling of his own by creating a successful market for fake fur. Merv is immediately taken with Sara, but the curmudgeon is not having any part of it.

The persistent Merv manages to get included in the dinner party. He appears to be Sara’s polar opposite—sociable, funny,  passionate about life and open to change. Will Mr. Nice Guy be able to penetrate the tough veneer wrought by so many years?

For this show to work as well as it does, the actors must perform seamlessly as an ensemble and have the chemistry to make it believable. Jacqueline Misholy excels as Sara, a tough cookie whose harsh demeanor hints at deeply concealed vulnerability and tenderness. I previously saw Christine Nelson in Bare Bones’ production of Neil Simon’s Fools. She is well-cast as Pfeni, a woman who instinctively knows she is skating on thin ice with her choice of a romantic partner and won’t be able to dodge the lingering unanswered questions forever.

Both Susan Stein, the manically happy and narcissistic Gorgeous Teitelbaum, and Steve Ayle, outrageously theatrical Geoffrey Duncan, are hilarious and make for a lot of laughter. Len DeLorenzo is superb as the uninvited dinner guest who knows what he likes when he sees it and proves to be a formidable suitor.

Tess (Shannon Raffaniello) and Tom Valiunus (Mike Koullias) perform with great poise and provide the youthful perspective of a couple who weather the resolution of a dilemma with far less baggage.

Ralph Carideo completes the picture as Nick Pym, as the guest who is so clueless about Sara’s likes and dislikes that he brings a birthday gift that is destined to disappoint.

The play is directed with great finesse by Lynn Antunovich, the artistic director of the theater company, with an assist from Eric Clavel.  Scott McIntyre is the producer.

Performances take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 20, 26,  and 27  and at  2 p.m. on  Aug. 21 and 28. Bare Bones Theater is located at 57 Main St., Northport. Tickets are $25 for Friday and Saturday performances and $20  for matinees. Student tickets are $15. To purchase tickets, visit brownpapertickets.com or call 1-800-838- 3006.