WHAT “The Sisters Rosensweig”
WHEN | WHERE Thursday, Aug. 18, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 28, Bare Bones Theater Company, 57 Main St., Northport
TICKETS $15-$25; 631-606-0026, barebonestheater.com
We don’t know if Wendy Wasserstein was referencing feminism — which detractors once mistook for witchcraft — when she named one of the title protagonists in “The Sisters Rosensweig” Sara Goode. We can’t ask her. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “The Heidi Chronicles” died of lymphoma in 2006 at age 55. The real Sarah Good, also a character in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” was among the first three women convicted and hanged in the 1692 Salem witch trials.
Wasserstein makes direct literary references in her 1992 Broadway follow-up to “Chronicles,” including Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” (there are three Sisters Rosensweig, though two bear surnames of current or ex-husbands) and Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (for whom Sara named her sexually liberated daughter).
At Northport’s Bare Bones Theater, we meet Sara and Tess on the occasion of the elder Goode’s 54th birthday. The two other sisters, boyfriends and/or husbands are expected at any moment to celebrate at Sara’s plush London digs (Jodi McIntyre’s well-appointed set).
Sara is a fiercely independent woman of considerable means, the only female to head an international Hong Kong bank. She is played by Jacqueline Misholy just as Sara describes herself — bitter and brittle — except in the company of her sisters and only child. There, we glimpse a well-guarded tenderness. Even then Sara can be ruthless. “You sure you don’t want to be with a nice man?” Sara asks Pfeni, the kid sister who’s dating Geoffrey, a bisexual theater director played by Steve Ayle with an infectious flamboyance. As Pfeni, Christine Nelson frets convincingly about Geoffrey’s commitment to her, given that his line of work puts him in constant contact with gay men and that she’s often globe-trotting on journalism self-assignments.
Middle sister Gorgeous Teitelbaum — “Dr. Gorgeous” to her radio talk/advice fans — is married with children and living in the Boston ’burbs. Susan Stein is Gorgeous — her sisters are prettier; she accessorizes Geoffrey’s life-of-the-party manner, bringing much-needed energy to Act 1, which, as directed by Lynn Antunovich, feels ponderous at times, despite romantic intrigue involving an unexpected guest who won’t leave. As Merv, Geoffrey’s faux furrier friend, Len DeLorenzo makes a charmingly persistent long-shot suitor.
The pace accelerates in the second act as relationship clarity and a more sympathetic Tess portrayal by Shannon Raffaniello persuade us that these sisters can’t work their will through sorcery — despite spells they cast on gay men, loser husbands and lonely furriers.