In Sisters Three, inspired by the literary Brontës, playwright Jami Brandli has crafted a tight, intimate play that defies categorization. She has borrowed the Brontë names and some elements of the famed family’s domestic situation in an utterly absorbing play that is comic, tragic, and ultimately, blackly farcical. It’s Christmas and the setting is a cramped studio apartment at a university where Emily (Dana DeRuyck), or EJ as she prefers to be called, a doctoral candidate in advanced mathematics, gazes at a blackboard trying to solve the Riemann conundrum (a problem too complex for an easy explanation in a theatrical review). With the short hair and baggy clothes that suggests, perhaps, that she might be a butch lesbian, which, in fact she is, she has a certain volital quality of a woman off her meds, which, in fact, she is. Her situation is complicated by the presence of her younger sister, Anne (Kara Hume), a modern type yoked to her smart phone and Instagram as surely as a certain politico is to Twitter.
Anne moved in with EJ when the sisters sold the family home after the death of their beloved brother, Patrick, a talented painter and unfortunate drunk. Anne is in constant motion, now finishing the final sanding of a canoe she has built, now checking her Instagram account, and badgering EJ to take her meds. There is, of course, the third sister, Charlotte (Robyn Cohen), who, after the death of her brother, eschewed her career as an internet cooking guru, to join a commune on an island called Gondal, where the inhabitants have foregone all modern conveniences to live off the land.
Anne is a hyper-cheerful sort who buys a lot of stuff and is relentlessly pert and perky. EJ is consumed in angst over the potential possibility of true love with a graduate assistant. What is it about the canoe, you might ask? Anne has the quixotic notion to paddle over to Gondal Island, rescue her sister and bring her back into the familial fold. I give nothing important away here, all this is revealed in the first, say, fifteen minutes of this intriguing show.
The action of the play, under the keen direction of Annie McVey, is crisp and choreographed, a necessity in the intimate space of the VS. Theatre. Dana DeRuyck as Emily carries the emotional weight of the play, while Kara Hume serves up some ditzy comedy as Anne, who might just possibly have a touch of attention deficit. When Robyn Cohen shows up as Charlotte, Sisters Three charts stunning new territory in the category of black comedy.
Set designer Lex Gernon shoe-horns a credible studio apartment into limited space, which boasts some subtle lighting by Joey Guthman. Props designer Rebecca Carr fills the space with everything necessary. Costumes by Allison Dillard support place, character and action. John Zalewski is the sound designer, and I was very glad to know there is a fight director, Collin Bressie. Karen Osborne manages the stage with ineffable efficiency.
Sisters Three, produced by Daniel Shoenman and Rosie Glen-Lambert, continues through January 20, 2019 at VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.