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Jewish Repertory Theatre's 'Sisters' is a success

The late playwright Wendy Wasserstein and her women: both indelible.

Wasserstein died almost a year ago at age 55 of lymphoma, and her death in theater circles is still deemed incalculable. She wrote in seriocomic fashion about the women of her generation, what they sought and what they got.

"The Heidi Chronicles" won Wasserstein a Pulitzer Prize in 1989, and it was followed by the warmly received "The Sisters Rosensweig" in 1993, the latter a chatty tale of three Jewish sisters from Brooklyn and their reunion in London to celebrate the 54th birthday of the oldest sibling, Sara. The Jewish Repertory Theatre is reviving "Sisters" on the Andrews Theatre stage through New Year's Eve.

The play is not a comedy nor is it all that serious, although some big-time issues emerge over the course of two days of getting reacquainted. Sara is a successful international banker in London, living well there as a single mother with 17-year-old daughter Tess, a precocious young beauty just now keeping company with a wannabe Lithuanian freedom fighter. Middle sister Gorgeous is a talk-show host back in Newton, Mass., a busybody who says things like, "Well, this looks like a funsy group!" The baby, 40-year-old Pfeni, is an intrepid print journalist tracking down injustice, usually off chronicling Afghans or Kurds. The sisters arrive, ready to party, but with plenty of life masks in their luggage to match Sara's cache.

Playwright Wasserstein readily admitted her love for Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov and his "The Three Sisters," and it could be argued that "The Sisters Rosensweig," with its disappointments in affairs of the heart and its endless prattle about the inconsequential -- there's even a joking mention of "If only I could get to Moscow...," by one of the sisters -- is a spinoff of the melancholy classic. One thing is for sure: Chekhov was seldom this funsy.

There's quite a guest list for the party: Nicholas Pym, pompous ass Parliamentarian; Geoffrey Duncan, bisexual stage director, interested in Pfeni but whose latest male lover just ran off with an actor from "Cats"; Merv Kant, a faux furrier friend of Geoffrey, immediately taken with cool and aloof Sara; and dim bulb Tom, the revolutionary boyfriend of Tess. Theories on any subject ricochet, witticisms abound, bon mots flow like chardonnay and one-liners -- Wasserstein was a vaudevillian at heart -- spice up the night. Conversations between these disparate people are electric for long minutes, particularly when secrets are bared or advice not sought is offered freely or when love, on the loose here, is coming or going. When this "Sisters" is going full-tilt, and that's often, it is a joy.

Director Greg Natale has calibrated the sisters -- they pose and pretend in a crowd, hark back to their Brooklyn roots when alone, their body language and cadence different. Admirably skillful.

Cast performances are faultless: the regal Barbara Link LaRou returns as vulnerable Sara; Eileen Dugan and Kelli Bocock-Natale are lonely Pfeni and defensive Gorgeous respectively; Tim Newell is a wonderfully complete and complex Geoffrey; Saul Elkin gives an acting clinic as Merv; Drew Derek and Jim Maloy are very fine in lesser but key roles; and Rachel Oyama is a find as Tess.

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>Theater Review

"The Sisters Rosensweig"

Review: Four stars (out of four)

Comedy presented by the Jewish Repertory Theatre through Dec. 31 in Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. For information, call 853-4282 or visit www.jewishrepertorytheatre.com.

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