Ahhhh, family. There’s nothing like it, is there?
Relationships that run to your very core. Shared experiences oftentimes rendering different memories of the same event. The experience of deep love and sometimes simultaneous deep loathing that can only be bred from knowing each other for most of, if not all of, your lives. That feeling of home (whatever that might be) regardless of how long you’ve been apart.
No matter what your experience of family is, the one that we meet in Northern Light Theatre’s season opener, Sister, Sister, is likely not one you want to be part of.
We meet sisters Dirdra and Janice on the day of their 15-year reunion, which is instigated by their mother’s death. It’s a reunion that revolves around celebration, not mourning. Sister, Sister is a story of returning home in search of closure after fifteen years away. Written by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, Sister, Sister‘s world première runs at the PCL Studio in the ATB Arts Barns October 28 – November 5.
To serve oneself, or one’s family
Trevor Schmidt, Northern Light Theatre’s Artistic Director who also directs and designs the set and costumes of Sister, Sister, says this play interested him because, “It’s super funny, but it’s also rooted in a painful, truthful examination of relationships, loyalty, and responsibility. I always say every play that interests me is about characters being torn between their loyalty to themselves and their loyalty to others and which way they choose to go. I am a person who myself has been raised with the idea that you’re always loyal to others. The idea that if you’re loyal to yourself, you’re being selfish. So, I love to watch that struggle on stage. This play is about those questions: Do I serve myself, or do I serve others? Do I serve my family because they’re my family, or do I serve myself because I need to keep myself safe by running away or disconnecting?”
Trevor reveals Dirdra and Janice have been separated for fifteen years as the result of a traumatic event that happened to their family when Dirdra was 16 and Janice was 18½, pitting the sisters against each other.
“Something happened with their mother and there was a traumatic event inflicted on Dirdra who left home and never came back. There was a court case and Janice did not support her younger sister in the court case. You find out what that is later in the play. But Janice has called Dirdra and said, ‘It’s safe to come back, Mom is dead.’ When Dirdra comes back, they try to unearth what has happened since then and they both have preconceptions about how the other one lives – what they do now and what they’ve been doing for the last 15 years. Dirdra doesn’t want to be in the house because it brings back such bad memories for her.”
And while this sounds – and is – serious, in true Northern Light Theatre fashion, Sister, Sister is also a dark comedy. This production stars Louise Claire Lambert and Arielle Rombough, who were previously seen in Northern Light Theatre’s The Pink Unicorn and The Good Bride respectively. If you saw either of these productions, I’m sure you can imagine what a delight it will be to see these two women on stage together, with their intense immersion in their characters and spot-on comedic timing. Trevor says, “The way they behave with one another is funny, and so is the way they speak to each other.”
At its heart, Sister, Sister is also about finding closure and moving past a traumatic event. Trevor says, “They’re definitely trapped at an earlier time in life. I wanted to show that something stopped for them at a certain point in time. There was a traumatic event and they have never really emotionally moved on from that – they haven’t matured. They haven’t healed from this event, they haven’t talked about it, reconciled with each other about it. There hasn’t been any closure… There are people who say, ‘This happened in my childhood and this ruined my life.’ while others say, ‘Can’t you let it go? Now is different.’ That’s what the play is about too – it’s about asking do I carry this event with me through my life? Does this dictate the rest of my life or do I let it go and eventually forgive that adult who inflicted that trauma and say that I am responsible for my life?”
Trevor’s set and costumes contribute to this idea of being stuck in a point in time, with the wardrobe being straight out of the 80s and the set being, “A little bit like a wall-to-wall shag carpet coliseum… I wanted it to feel very enclosed, I wanted them to feel trapped and like they were fighting in the coliseum together. They’re fighting but there’s nowhere for them to go. There’s one door and it’s not very big and the floor is shifting under their feet so they can’t get a good footing in order to make a strong attack.”
The world première of Sister, Sister by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich is produced by Northern Light Theatre and runs at the PCL Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barns October 28 – November 5. A pay-what-you-can preview is on October 27. Tickets are $20 – $30 through Northern Light Theatre’s box office, or you can buy a Northern Light Theatre subscription, which includes Sister, Sister, for $40 – $75.
As usual, Northern Light Theatre is running their complimentary salon series for Sister, Sister:
- Director’s Circle Sunday Matinee – October 30 at 1:00 p.m.: Artistic Director Trevor Schmidt discusses the show (plus: snacks from Under the High Wheel!)
- Wednesday Night Salon Series – November 2 following the show: Colin MacLean chats with a guest about Sister, Sister (plus pizza from Famoso!)
- Thursday Night Talk Back – November 3 following the show: Louise Claire Lambert and Arielle Rombough discuss Sister, Sister