Sunday, October 4, 2020

340. MY SISTER, MY SISTER. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Seret Scott, Jessie Saunders.

[Drama/Alcoholism/Business/Family/Period/Race/Religion/Sex/Southern] A: Ray Aranha; D: Paul Weidner; S: Lawrence King; C: Kathleen Ankers; L: Larry Crimmins; P: Jay J. Cohen, Myra L. Burns, and Chesmark Productions; T: Little Theatre; 4/11/74-8/11/74 (119)

David Downing, Barbara Montgomery.

A problematic, multilayered blend of poetic fantasy and realism, that John Simon and Martin Gottfried compared, unfavorably, to the work of Tennessee Williams. It takes place among the members of a black family in a Southern town during the 1950s.

Seret Scott, Barbara Montgomery.

The central figure is Sue Belle (Seret Scott). The play pictures her, through often dizzying time shifts backward and forward, as she grows up to become a psychologically and sexually confused young woman. As the play jumps freely through time, a number of characters appear: Sue Belle’s irresponsible, drunken father (David Downing), her Bible-toting mother (Barbara Montgomery), her promiscuous elder sister (Jessie Saunders), the lover (Downing again) who has gotten her pregnant, and whom she now associates with her incestuous father (thus the casting). Also introduced are various symbolic “spectres” of her past, and, in one scene, Jesus Christ (Lowell Copeland), played by a white actor.

Aranha’s attempts to explore Sue Belle’s perplexed psyche through rapid cutting from one period of her life to another bewildered many critics. A few were often unable to tell “whether we are watching a precocious child or a retarded young woman,” in Simon’s words. The action occasionally seemed incomprehensible and appeared to Richard Watts “not only unclear but steadily foolish and tedious.” Douglas Watt reported that it became “a bore.” Walter Kerr was baffled, but saw promise in the writing. Clive Barnes, however, supported the play as “well-written and compassionate,” despite the “occasionally disconcerting” time shifts. And, most positively, Edith Oliver dubbed the work “remarkable,” claiming that “Mr. Aranha writes with the greatest sympathy, imagination, and humor.”

The play, originally staged at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut, played Off Off-Broadway before emerging in this Broadway version by the same director. The performances, especially that of Scott, were considered of top quality. Aranha won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Playwright, and Scott walked off with a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

My Sister, My Sister marked the reopening of the Little Theatre for legitimate theatre after some years as a TV studio. In 1983, the Little Theatre became the Helen Hayes Theatre after the earlier theatre of that name, on W. 48th Street, was demolished.