A strong cast illuminate what they can in an underwritten script
by Justis Danto-Clancy – Mar. 19, 2011
The King’s Theatrical Society’s production of Wendy Lil’s Sisters is as heartfelt, impressive and emotionally portrayed as the script allows. Director Laura Vingoe-Cram and her talented cast stage an evocative performance about the ways in which residential schools corrupted not only the Native Canadians in Nova Scotia, but also the nuns who lived, worked and taught within them. Although the philosophical fabric of the play is frayed and thin with overuse and repetition, the conflicts that engulf Mary, Gabriel, Agnes and Stein’s lives are convincing and had several audience members in tears by the end of the night.
The play is set beautifully against delicate white sheets, facilitating a lighting scheme that not only inform the tone of the work, but also serve as the translucent corridors of the monastery. As the vague shadowed nuns pass between the layered sheeting, their shadows always fall onto the action before the curtain, aptly showing the interconnectedness of the monastery as a structure. Agnes (played by Steph Haller) uses this strategy well, displaying nearly omniscient knowledge and always influencing the lives of Mary and Gabriel.
The script is what really holds the show back. Gathering all of my enthusiasm for what was a very good piece of theatre, I struggled to define why I couldn’t get behind it. But in a play that centers around several traumatic events and acts of unbridled emotion, very little happens. Local author Wendy Lil’s adherence to a formulaic, episodic structure made the emotion—about which all of the characters constantly obsess—hardly believable. There are approximately three different (decidedly wooden and soap operatic) emotional levels we witness over the course of the evening, and it really does feel like a feature of the script, not shortsighted direction.
Frustratingly, the cast of Sisters provides its audience with the beginnings of an emotionally challenging, beautiful portrayal of difficult, poignant history that happened right here, in Nova Scotia, while being shackled to a script that does not allow the actors to take that leap of faith and deliver a performance that really leaves an impact.