The Spring production of the RIC Growing Stage’s “My Sister in this House” by Wendy Kesselman, left an impression; it was a play about incest and murder in France. Every character dies or is sentenced to hard labor. I love that shit. My problem was the lack of interesting and important events in the play leading up to the phenomenal climax. Still, a good show considering the Growing Stage’s track record of lameness.
The story follows sisters Christine and Lea Lutton. They’re maids in the employ of Madame Danzard, a French snob with delusional expectations of her servants and absolute adoration of her daughter, Isabelle. The maids don’t talk to the Danzards; the Danzards don’t talk to the maids. If Madame has a gripe with something, she passive aggressively vents her frustration without directly addressing the maids. A cold detachment pervades each scene Madame shares with the maids.
The story moves unfathomably slow. At one point, Isabelle and Madame Danzard play cards for about five minutes without a single word of exposition or plot advancement; they just talk about the game. Wendy Kesselman, you’re wasting my time. It takes a while for the show to gain momentum, and I don’t think this is any fault of the actors or director; it’s just a flimsy script.
So, the maids end up viciously murdering the Danzard ladies. They rip out their eyes and mutilate their genitals. Bone fragments and teeth scattered everywhere. What makes this so scary is the lack of communication that precedes it. Madame and Christine don’t ever speak directly in the play until the moment before the murder. Also there’s some repressed Catholic undertones involving nun role play. In one scene, the sisters return from mass and immediately start having sex. And I thought I was the only one who gets crazy horny from going to church.
Laura Kennedy, beyond an unexpectedly beautiful singing voice, gave stellar moments of emotional discord as older sister Christine. She unraveled the tough exterior of her character gradually through the show, resulting in a truly satisfying breakdown and a showstopping scream that came right from her guts. She’s also a freshman, and hopefully we can look forward to many great performances at RIC to come.
Hollie DiOrio played up the child-like aspects of younger sister Lea and contrasted well with Kennedy’s grounded seriousness. She was vulnerable and innocent and made moments of romance between the sisters all the more unsettling.
As Madame Danzard, Monique Brown was cold and scary when necessary, but also breathed comedic levity into an otherwise grave and serious show. In a play about forbidden incestuous lesbian romance, a little comedy goes a long way. As Isabelle, Jackeline Aguirre developed an unspoken friendship (literally, they don’t speak) with Lea, and as much as she seems to defend the maids in front of her mother, it’s all the more disgusting when she sells them out in the climax. She gets her had smashed in with a pewter vase.
Technically, “My Sister in this House” surprised me. The sound design used minimalist elements like a dripping faucet to exacerbate the tension in a wordless confrontation between Christine and Madame. The white backdrop was blasted with light to create cool silhouette effects; the actresses singing unaccompanied made the aesthetic all the more potent. Though it may be trite, I always love when lights go red to represent violence. As Lea picks up the vase and Christine tackles Madame, the washed out red light and the cacophonous screams made me feel like I was in a fucking war zone. Well done.
I didn’t care much for the script of “My Sister in this House.” A lot of the dialogue was weak. I couldn’t help but think people don’t talk this way-even in France. But the production held my attention. I knew something fucking awful was about to happen and I was not disappointed. The incest was creepy, but it was kept to a tasteful minimum, if that’s even possible. It’s not easy pulling together a Growing Stage production, as all the means of design and production are in the hands of students. Kim Beggs and crew have my respect for a satisfying show.