Playhouse showcases over-30 actresses in Belles

Belles; a play in two acts or 45 phone calls
by Mark Dunn
at the Ghent Playhouse,
Ghent.
 
Belles is likely to supply lifetime income for playwright Mark Dunn as long as community theaters must search for plays that offer juicy monologues to their best over-30 actresses. There are some good ones in this production—monologues and actresses.
   However, this story involving six sisters sharing by telephone their frequent woes and occasional wins has a familiar, old aroma about it, rather like the pictures on one of their walls. (Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and two pen-sketched children who appear to be opening their pants to inspect their own genitals.)
   This play is too young to be a period piece and too old for sharp, contemporary realities. In other words, dated—in spite of the fact that narratives involving siblings damaged by damaged parents will not go out of style entirely until parents stop damaging children, which is never.
   Each sister has chosen/succumbed to a radically different maladjustment.  We have the dutiful stay-home-to-care-for-mama sister, Peggy, played with convincing simplicity by Sally Dodge; and Paige, a college student with dating issues, played unconvincingly by Leanne Wilensky; and the handsome, loner, alcoholic Aneece (who unfortunately must deliver her touching emotional breakdown to a photograph), well-played by Jackie DeGiorgis; and the round, sweet-faced Eileen Johnson as Audrey, who is extremely distressed by the loss of “her boy,” a wooden puppet! Denise Rubio offers a delightfully outrageous, promiscuous, Sherry/Dust, a not-so-free spirit. (Her frequent name changes have lately turned to “Dust.” Maybe because she so frequently gets swept away.) The most nuanced character is Cathy Lee-Visscher’s Roseanne, a minister’s wife whose husband has flown the sanctuary as well as the coop. (It is a pleasure to watch Lee-Visscher over the years bringing more and more understanding and imagination to each new role.)
   The emotional malfunctions of these sisters are so deliberately contrasting that they verge on cartoon. It is a difficulty inherent in the play, though director Nancy Wilder has done what she can with it. Wilder must keep every actress attached to her phone and thus in one area of the stage; but she has given them all such a variety of physicalities (sitting, stretching, lying, lounging, dancing, sitting on the floor, with both movement and stillness) that the piece always seems fluid and alive. For example, Lee-Visscher/Roseanne is standing–just standing serenely in her kitchen, having matured before our eyes; and it tells all about the life-place she has reached.
   Tom Detwiler’s sets are nearly always marvels of realistic good taste, even beauty. This time he was required to create six separate spaces, one for each sister, and though the levels and side-stage spaces work well, they feel a bit overstuffed.
   If, early in the play, the transition music and regional accents make you wish to see Texas returned with apologies to Mexico, be patient. Later sounds become more northerly.
   Is it a coincidence that one sister intones “Adieu…to yieu!” just as Judy Holliday intoned it many years ago in Bells Are Ringing?
Belles plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October 25. Web site: www.ghentplayhouse.org; Telephone (518) 392-6264.

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