Review of The Sugar Bean Sisters
By Nathan Sanders
Directed by Denise Elia-Yen
For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company
RUN: March 17 – April 9, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars
(March 24, 2017)
When sisters have been living too long together, tempers bubble to the surface, causing unfounded squabbling mingled with compassion. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set design is a crumbling shrine to the Nettle sisters’ departed parents in a humid, marshy version of Miss Havisham’s dusty sanctuary; rotting wood and Christmas decorations linger on the edges of the stage as a reminder of their passing. Deep in sugar bean territory, infested with mosquitos, the neglected house sinks into the mire, taking its inhabitants along with it.
The eldest sister, Willie Mae Nettles, suffers from loneliness, clutching at the hope of finding a husband to love her, while weighed down by her age and appearance making that unlikely. Mollie boice’s nervous energy realistically depicts a paranoid woman who has stretches of calm with an other worldly sense of delight. Mary Gannon Graham’s fiery Faye Nettles seems to be the practical, common sense sister until her eyes light up with the promise of returning alien visitors coming to take her away from the meaningless state her life has become, trapped in her role as caregiver in a dank house far from civilization. She needs that release desperately enough to go to extreme lengths to achieve her perception of freedom. The transition from irritated helpmate to violent machinations felt rushed and out of character, perhaps there was not enough in the script to work with, but a gradual shift in behavior or reactions may have smoothed that in earlier scenes.
The Sugar Bean Sisters opens in silence as a mysterious visitor pokes about the house, searching it with careless indifference to the inhabitants, making herself at home with the cookie jar and vanity mirror. Director Denise Elia-Yen brings out Lydia Revelos’ physical comedy in an engaging introduction to Vidella Sparks, who flounces her way through the window, losing colorful feathers and her dignity, but capturing the audience’s heart. Pamela Johnson’s exotic costume design combined with Revelos’ mincing steps creates a flighty, dangerous creature who is not what she appears to be.
For a story about alien landings and sisterly antics, it has a grounded feel to it with touching moments of family connection and loss interspersed with outlandish side stories, such as the melodramatic Reptile Woman (Sharon Griffith) wielding voodoo prophecies, and Vidella Sparks’ sinister exit. Join the Nettles in this supernatural comedy set in the depths of Florida’s swampland.