Review: Sisters (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper Theatre presents Sisters, based on the Edith Wharton novel, on stage in Toronto

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents Sisters, a play written by Rosamund Small (based on the novel Bunner Sisters By Edith Wharton) and directed by Peter Pasyk, that is so intimate it is almost claustrophobic. This is a production that explores the bonds of women, of sisters, and how far we’ll go to save them.

Wharton wrote her novel Bunner Sisters in 1892, an era where it was difficult for women to survive on their own. For Ann (Laura Condlln) and Evelina (Nicole Power), sisters who have nothing but each other and a struggling seamstress shop, the ability to make ends meet is a constant concern. When Mr Ramy (Kevin Bundy), a clock maker from Germany, arrives in town, he brings chaos–not only to the two women’s lives, but on their bond as sisters.

As always with Soulpepper productions, I was immediately blown away by the set, as was my friend Christine. The sisters’ home and shop is outlined by a three-dimensional picture frame illustrating exactly how small the space is. Characters move in and around this set with ease, but once they are within the confines of the frame, they are inside the home. This becomes a very noteworthy point later in the performance. Within the frame exists a basic sewing and supplies table and a small bed for both sisters that’s hardly big enough for one. I also thoroughly love how the back wall could open up to reveal another set. Designer Michelle Tracey has outdone herself here.

The performances are equally as great — Power and Condlln have great chemistry as siblings. Condlln is the older, more pragmatic one, and Power is the younger one with the restless free spirit. Both are holding onto each other and their shop out of duty and necessity, simply because they are all each other has left.

Most people may recognize Power from her performance as Shannon in the Soulpepper presented television sitcom Kim’s Convenience. Like her character Shannon, Power’s portrayal of Evelina is bubbly, quirky, and unpredictable. Christine mentioned that at first–she wasn’t a fan of Evelina as a character, but then grew to like her. Evelina has the ability to see the world in nuances, to see sounds as colour, and though most don’t understand her or her abruptness, they appreciate her for it.

We both got quite a few laughs out of Karen Robinson’s portrayal of Mrs. Mellins, the dressmaker from the second floor. Her character has a bizarrely sardonic and yet witty sense of humor that never failed to catch us off guard with her oddly placed one liners. Her character is a hoot and a wonderful addition to the story.

I did wonder about the pacing for this story, however. The first half of the performance, as the sisters get to know Mr Ramy, is a slow and gradual build-up. When Mr Ramy hastily takes off with Evelina and his deceit is revealed, the descent happens in a rapid-fire roller coaster ride to the end. That’s when Sisters gets truly interesting.

The staging of Ann traveling across the country in search of Evelina is tremendous. It’s a whirlwind as Ann rapidly moves across the stage from train station to train station, and when she happens to stumble into the confines of the stage as if by random, the next scene sees her wake up at home. Some very fine direction here by Pasyk.

Christine mentioned how much she admired the costuming which is indeed superb. Sarah Noyes and Erika Connor and their team have created impeccable works of art with the wardrobe. I love the cut and the structured shape of Ann’s dress and the lavish puffed sleeves on the glorious gown worn by ‘Lady with the Puffy Sleeves’ is beautiful.

Sisters is a delight to watch; it’s a performance that will keep you intrigued until the peak, and then brings you along for an emotionally tumultuous ride until the end.

Details:

  • Sisters is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until September 16 2018.
  • Performances run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm with Saturday matinees at 1:30 pm. Bonus matinee on Sunday September 2.
  • Tickets range from $35 – $95.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by calling 416 866 8666, or in person before the show.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains theatrical haze and mature subject matter, viewer discretion advised.
  • Run Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Photo of Kevin Bundy, Laura Condlln and Nicole Power by Cylla von Tiedemann