It’s been said the bond between sisters goes beyond what words can express. Thank goodness British playwright Gail Louw has managed to overcome any restrictions to that rule and written an exquisite play called TWO SISTERS now enjoying its U.S. Premiere at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. It centers on Jewish sisters Edith and Rika who are celebrating Edith’s 75th birthday on the Israeli kibbutz where she has lived since age 18, one of the early pioneering kibbutznik collective farmers who became a Socialist and stayed.
Rika, four years younger, was a Holocaust survivor having been left behind in Berlin at age 14 when her sister left for Palestine. She’s about to return to New York and hopes to take her beautiful 18-year-old granddaughter Janine with her to pursue her studies at NYU. But Janine has a man and is reluctant to leave him, or her free-spirited aunt Edith for that matter.
Over the course of reminiscences, it turns out the sisters have many secrets in their pasts never shared with each other before. Over the course of 24 hours (displayed on a clock featured predominantly on Jeff G. Rack’s lovely set), the sisters share they opinions on Janine’s choices as well as their own feelings about love and sex, and soon discover they shared one particular thing in common: a man who just happens to still be involved in Edith’s social life.
As portrayed by Leda Siskind and Sharron Shayne, sisters Edith and Rika certainly enjoy the typical one-upmanship banter between siblings, each attempting to be the smarter to prove the other one was wrong about an opinion or situation faced. Their emotional ups and downs as secrets are revealed will certainly pull you into their world of bitter differences and profound similarities. Edith appears to be the more grounded of the two, able to focus on current events as well as appreciating the arts while maintaining her free-spirited lifestyle. Rika seems much more the worrier, always looking out for what can possibly go wrong. It’s an all-too-human tale, brilliantly told through Louw’s evocative text.
While there are several Yiddish expressions used throughout the show, you don’t have to be Jewish to understand what is being said as the meaning of each word is explained by the sisters during their dialogue. And no doubt sisters of any religion have the same bond and struggle to just get along for the sake of the family, especially when they are the only two left. Louw admits to modelling the sisters after he own Mother and Aunt, using several stories told by them throughout her entire life. And when you walk out of the theater, I guarantee you will feel as if you have just witnessed two sisters who have gone through hell and manage to find their way back into each other’s lives just when they need each other the most. Two Sisters will definitely resonate with anyone who’s ever been part of a family.
Stewart Zully’s direction often has the two actresses standing at odds with each other, but then allows each actress a shining moment to display the emotional chutzpah needed to make their point. Under his care, the scenes during which Rika “forgets her words” become all the more heartbreaking as she is an emotional powder keg waiting to explode. It is very apparent Shayne understands the heart and soul of this tortured woman who fears the onset of Alzheimer’s is just around the corner and really wants to make the best of what life still has to offer her. Certainly that is a universal dream we all hope to achieve in our own lives.