THE BASICS: THREE SISTAHS, the musical by Thomas W. Jones II and William F. Hubbard, directed by Renita Shadwick, starring Denise Mullen, Taneisha Facey, and Danielle Green runs through May 26, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 4 at the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Avenue. (884-2013). www.aaccbuffalo.org Runtime: a little under 2 hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Inspired by the characters in the 1900 Chekhov play THREE SISTERS, in birth order the Russians Olga, Masha, and Irina, it’s now 1969 in America and our THREE SISTAHS are the quiet controlling “Olive,” the frustrated and seething “Marsha,” and the angry baby of the Bradshaw family, ”Irene.” The three are back at the family home in Washington, D.C. for the last time to clean things out, following the third funeral in three years – first mom, then dad, and now their beloved baby brother killed in the Vietnam war. As families do, they dredge up old wounds and hurts, resentments, anger, and frustration. But it’s also the time to remember what was good and to patch things up before returning to their separate lives. With lots of gospel and gospel-inspired singing, the three actresses are ably backed up by a tight piano-bass-drum trio.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As you enter the theater you are treated to some improvised jazz courtesy of Frazier Thomas Smith, the Music Director at the electronic piano, with David Wells, bass, and Abdul Rahman Qadir, drums. This pre-show entertainment is traditional with Paul Robeson Theatre musicals and it’s always a treat to hear the “old school” jazz played by three “old guys” who have a trick or two up their sleeves.
Directed by Renita Shadwick, we hear three powerful women’s voices harmonizing to “In My Father’s House” before we even see the sisters. Each of these women, Denise Mullen as “Olive,” Taneisha Facey as “Marsha,” and Danielle Green as “Irene” could be, and in Green’s case is, a soloist at her church. Put those voices together and you’ve got the power of the Lord, although each of the characters has a little of the devil in them. It’s not a traditional musical with separate, complete “numbers” interspersed with dialog. Instead, while there are a few multi-verse songs, many of the more powerful moments are shorter sections of longer gospel or blues songs. They also “sing” out loud some letters they uncover.
While there is no separate credit for costumes, hair, and make-up all of those just scream 1969. An even bigger treat was the realistic living room set arranged by Antonio Harris with Properties Mistress Debbi Davis. One perfect touch – over a passageway there are framed black and white pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Jesus Christ (in color); and John F. Kennedy. On the mantle are the tri-folded American flags and the service caps of the sisters’ father and brother. The dishes, the portable record player, the furniture? All of a piece.
Is this a “period piece,” a historical drama? No, because families then are the same as families now. And I’m sure that you have an Olive, a Marsha, or an Irene in your family or perhaps, as I do, all three and even more!
Photos courtesy Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center
UP NEXT: As mentioned in the PRT program there will be three music events in MLK Jr. Park on Sundays – “A Soulful Revue” with young performing artists on July 14; and two “30th Annual Pine Grill Jazz Reunion” shows, on Sunday August 4th and 11th, each of those with a 3 p.m. start. And while there are continuing acting classes all year long at the PRT, the “Jumpin’ Jambalaya Summer Program” for ages 6-12 runs from July 1st through August 23rd from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!