There’s always so much potential in a sibling drama. Three Sisters, Death of a Salesman, Hannah and Her Sisters, Rain Man—the list could go on and on, the variations endless. A sibling is someone closer than a friend, yet someone you might not get along with at all; someone often very like you yet at the same time disturbingly different; and someone with whom you are often forced to share both the dreams and the nightmares of childhood and youth, whether you’d choose to or not.
Playwright Edward Allan Baker mines these riches in two one-acts, presented together by Clout in the Mug and directed by Alberto Bonilla at Teatro La Tea downtown. But while the plays tell roughly parallel stories, they are not equally successful. In North of Providence, Carol (Rebecca Nyahay) visits her jobless, depressed brother Bobby (John Golaszewski) to try to convince him to visit their dying father in the hospital. Living slothfully in the old family home, now a pigsty, Bobby is a tight, angry ball of pain who rebuffs Carol’s every attempt to break him out of his bitter funk—until she manages to push the right buttons, and the secret that’s been eating away at him for years comes out.
The play suffers a little from Baker’s tendency to put expository background uncomfortably into the dialogue, but that problem is minimized by Bonilla’s sensitive direction and the actors’ sheer talent; the action builds satisfyingly to its climax, with room even for a few laughs along the way. An Altered Stages production I saw a few years ago was paced a little slower and stressed Carol’s fury more than Bobby’s moroseness, but it too hit hard—and it’s surely a sign of a well-constructed play that it can thrive under two quite different directorial visions. Either way it’s a powerful, concise dramatization of how the buried past can keep on burning us, for years—but also hold the possibility of redemption.
Dolores, which opens the evening, fares less well. Too much dialogue-exposition mars the early going, as the play’s siblings explain things to each other that we may need to know but two such sisters wouldn’t have to express in so many words. Thirty-year-old Dolores has arrived at her sister Sandra’s house in a state of mental disarray, seeking shelter from her abusive husband. There’s a lot of yelling as Sandra tries to keep her prodigal sister’s problems from ruining a rare Sunday afternoon of peace and quiet, and the characters are funny in a broad, shallow way. But too much of the dialogue doesn’t ring true. The language moves from sitcommy (“I hear Jewish men don’t hit their wives!”) to elevated and self-analytical, draped in phrases that just don’t sound right in the mouths of these working-class people with their thick Rhode Island accents. “Carly Simon songs made me all soft inside…” “I’d look in the mirror and my face would always look dirty…” This is pseudo-poetry, not drama.
The actors, Rachel Cornish and Sat Charn Fox, do their best, and there are some nice, effective moments. At the end when the true extent of Dolores’ plight has been revealed, the lights go down and we see one sister peacefully doing the other’s hair, the pair bathed in a temporary spotlight of tranquility before the storm.
But while both plays center on two siblings, a family catastrophe, and a gun, Dolores feels like an exercise, while North of Providence packs a wallop. The production runs till Feb. 12 at Teatro La Tea, 107 Suffolk St., New York.