With a light-hearted nod to sibling angst and rivalry, "The Sisters Rosensweig" celebrates the triumphs and records the sorrows of children who are now adults. During the play’s nearly three, but very speedy and funny, hours, the three sisters Rosensweig are as delightfully (in one case dippy) different from each other, as they are committed to each other for emotional support.
The sisters’ diverse lifestyles, careers, and personalities could have provoked confrontations and situations far more farcical than the ones that actually take place over one lively, sister-studded weekend. But Wasserstein wisely keeps her 1991 play within the realm of extended credibility. Although Wasserstein most recent plays, "An American Daughter" and "Old Money," didn’t quite garner the reception afforded her earlier plays — "The Heidi Chronicles," "Uncommon Women and Others" — "The Sisters Rosensweig," remains her most heartfelt, personal, and captivating work.
The play also affords an inherent and delightfully non-cryptic Jewishness to resonate in its principal characters. Throughout the plot, a good deal of pleasure is found in the way the sisters either question or perpetuate Jewish traditions and culture. The scene is the posh Queen Anne’s Gate, London, residence of Sara (Susan Clark) on the occasion of her 54th birthday. Besides being the oldest sister — and having the added prestige of being the first woman director of an International Hong Kong bank — Sara is also the most opinionated and affluent of three sisters. Middle sister, Gorgeous (June Gable) is a Newton, Massachussetts, housewife and lay analyst on Cable TV. The youngest Pfeni (Barbara Walsh) is a determined, eccentric travel writer, anxious about their mutually shared unhappiness.
As amusing as are Clark’s icy superior facade, Gable’s five-and-dime wisdom and glamour, and Walsh’s endearing eccentricities, so are the romantic and traumatic schisms pressed into the plot by men on the scene. The men are Merv (Tim Jerome), a politically correct New York furrier ("synthetic animal coverer"); Geoffrey (Jeffrey Hayenga), a theater director and self-proclaimed "closet heterosexual;" Nicholas (Robin Chadwick), a priggish English lord; and Tom (Wayne Wilcox), a young free-Lithuania activist. Their interplay with the sisters gives the play its wildest moments.
The performances are all first-rate. Clark, a native Canadian, is making a fine George Street Playhouse debut. As the self-sufficient professed atheist two-times divorced Sara, Clark offers a convincing portrait of a mature woman in constant conflict with her emotions. Television viewers will recognize Gable as Estelle, Joey’s agent on "Friends," but I’ll bet it will be the vision of her parading around in costume designer David Murin’s outrageous haute couture, and her hilariously over-the-top portrayal of an insecure woman determined to be competitive that will linger longest in the memory.
It is interesting how the role of the non-conformist and relentlessly world travelling Pfeni (excellently played by Walsh), who recklessly pins her hopes for romance on the bisexual Tom, takes on a special and disquieting resonance as her character refers to the plight of Afghanistan’s women and the Kurdish refugees.
Jerome, who appeared at George Street in last season’s "Human Events," and as Otto Frank in "The Diary of Anne Frank," gets the seducer’s award for his charming all-man wooing of the crabby Clark. Not quite man enough to find permanent rapture in his affair with Walsh, Hayenga gets the wacky nod for keeping his scene-stealing charades within the bounds of lawful exhibitionism.
Ali Marsh, as Sara’s rebellious daughter, is in the major acting league with her elders. David Saint’s direction of the play is so good you won’t take time to count (as Sara says she did) the 46 cabbage rose bouquets in the wallpaper that designer R. Michael Miller has used to enhance his handsomely furnished sitting room setting. The play takes place in 1989, when Communism was falling, amidst a series of cataclysmic world events. The poignancy of "The Sisters Rosensweig" is not so much that it presents an almost autobiographical portrait of Wasserstein’s family, but how its observations and declarations about politics, careers, marriage, and romance continue to resonate in this yet another cataclysmic period in history.
The Sisters Rosensweig, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Show runs to March 10. $18 to $45.