"Wicked Sisters" at the Women's Theatre Project Wastes a Good Idea

The obnoxious thing about Wicked Sisters at the Women's Theatre Project is not its sloppy genre-hopping. Nor is it the author's plain disbelief in the intelligence of her audience, the egregious overacting of three of the production's four actresses, nor their pathetic — there is no other word — mimicry of the generic Australian accent. Though any one of these things would prove fatal to an otherwise solid show, what most offends in Wicked Sisters is the material's obvious wasted potential.

In its way, Wicked Sisters has it all. Flashes of humor, vivid character sketches, big ideas. Big ideas, especially: Wicked Sisters' most compelling subplot revolves around the origins of computerized life. Throughout the play, there is a clunky-looking computer running a program in the far-left corner of the stage. Within it, simple electronic life forms are breeding and warring and carrying on with the business of evolution. One admires the stoicism with which they do it and wishes the play's human characters would learn from their example.

But why start now? The four characters have reached middle age without learning the most elementary lessons of etiquette or ethics. This, at least, ought to be an essential survival skill in the upper-class milieu in which these ladies exist. It's amazing that they've come so far without it. "You're fat!" says one of the women to another on their first meeting in many, many years. It is not a friendly barb. Moments later, another — who fell long ago from the allegedly ivory tower of academia — is told: "You clean toilets for a living!" As if she needed to be reminded.

Yeah, the four wicked sisters are bitchy and venal, most of them from the very beginning. Venality has its charms, of course, but one must consider one's surroundings. These ladies are supposed to be best friends, and they have assembled in the mountain home of the widowed Meridee (Miki Edelman) to offer consolation. Meridee's husband was a great computer scientist who suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years before taking a long stroll off a short cliff. Having relayed their sympathies, the ladies waste no time in surreptitiously pawing through the contents of one another's purses, and they haven't been together ten minutes before someone says of a lady just out of earshot, "She looks like something the cat dragged in!" Her friend sniffs. "My cats wouldn't bother."

It's difficult to say whether playwright Alma de Groen's script would feel so awkward if the ladies would content themselves with mere cattiness. As it is, de Groen very soon forces these characters to discuss the moral implications of Darwinism, materialism, and the work of Meridee's late husband. His last great contribution to science is the computer in the corner. Its digital life forms, with their brutish vitality, could act as a brilliant metaphor for the caprices of nature and could even serve as a reminder of why these women might need one another. Unfortunately, de Groen never wanders too far down that road, preferring instead to fill her script with cheap, deep thoughts. "If there is no spirit, what is it that's hurting so fucking badly?" one lady asks, as though we didn't already know: These ladies are miserable because they're mean. Long before it concludes its investigation of metaphysics, Wicked Sisters is all out of mysteries.

At least, it's out of interesting mysteries. A few boring ones remain, most of which are unintended. Where, for example, did actress Linda Bernard learn that Australians sound like they're from Buckhead? And who told Edelman that rage is best expressed with hands bolted to one's sides? As to the intended mysteries, only from the depths of some fathomless writer's block would de Groen have deployed the night's penultimate stupefaction: Who fucked Meridee's husband?

If you care, good for you. Alas, de Groen's jerking from farce to philosophy to mystery to (in a final scene of puckering contrivance) morality play left me too seasick to worry about other people's problems. The relentless overacting of Jude Parry and Linda Bernard didn't have a particularly calming effect on the stomach either. Describing her character's much-younger lover, Bernard faced the audience and said: "He has SUCH! A BEAUTIFUL! DICK!"

If there is a consolation in Wicked Sisters, it's Elizabeth Dimon. Given the saddest, loneliest, and sweetest role in the play, her character is only half-harpy. There is a long, lovely moment when she sits in a chair just in front of the computer desk, her character overcome with grief and misery, looking to her friends for comfort. They offer none. As they blare on and on, her eyes gain focus, and she begins to listen and learn. You can see that she's asking herself: Who are these people? Who am I? When the answers come, she is soberly, quietly surprised. In the space between de Groen's lines, Dimon concludes her private little drama, opens her mouth, and rejoins the fray.

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Brandon K. Thorp