“Sister Sorry” at BSC Is an Intense Whodunwhat
After the last six years in this country, are you interested enough to spend an evening’s entertainment watching how and why a person lies? If a confession is untethered from attribution or consequences, does it have any value at all to anyone? “Sister Sorry,” a World Premiere two-hander thriller, of sorts, by first-time playwright Alec Wilkinson loosely based on his New Yorker article and true events is being presented by Barrington Stage Company on their Boyd/Quinson mainstage through 8/29. It left me with far more questions than interest in the plight of its two characters, justice served or story resolved.
In 1993, “around the time of Clinton’s inauguration” the title character says, Sister Sorry (Jennifer Van Dyck) posts dozens of flyers crisscrossing downtown Manhattan with an invitation to call her Sorry line and confess whatever the caller would like to get off their chest. Totally anonymous, not connected to the police or any repercussions, just an open line where you are invited to fess up to your misdeeds and hear others do the same. She is soon receiving many calls, enough to have an exhibition at a gallery downtown which the gallery owner doesn’t want to publicize for fear of attracting criminals. Sister Sorry says “I wear a wig to the opening, which maybe I’m embarrassed about now.”
“A soldier calls saying he gave his wedding ring to a prostitute in Vietnam and for years he told his wife he lost it.” She then says “We’re in polite society here, so I’m not going to talk about the father-daughter, mother-son, and brother-sister sex stuff…and the what-I-did-to-the-dog-when-I-was-twelve, all of it dark and darker and much darker, so that even for me, who has a wide tolerance, it’s disturbing, although, let’s be clear, also thrilling.”
Then one night she receives a call from someone calling himself Jack Flash who stops her in her tracks as he describes killing his mother. A 28-year-old man who lives at home with his mother because he is too financially unstable to rent his own place has gotten sick of his mother nagging him every day “That he was a waste of life” for the past four years. Sister Sorry believes him “The way the words sort of rush out of him, that’s something I hadn’t heard before, that distress. You almost could feel his sweating over the phone.” I didn’t think the story passed the sniff test, but alright.
It’s interesting that Sister Sorry thinks that incest is much too dark for polite company but killing your mother is fine? Even Dame Agatha knew that a body in the closet could make for a cozy evening of puzzles which is what this becomes with Sister Sorry calling Jack Flash and the two of them building a relationship with plans to meet or exchange evidence made and scrapped. They go back and forth with Jack challenging Sister and she comes back with “Proof is not an issue here.” Why wouldn’t that be? Jack grows more agitated with Sister and another caller Vernon while Sister is desperate to keep in contact with him. Jack accuses the artist Sister Sorry of being the monster for having the prurient interest in the deed. I could see his point, I didn’t feel there was much concern for human life in peril. For me, it was a repetitive tease that led nowhere and illuminated nothing.
Jennifer Van Dyck gives a spiky, energetic portrayal as Sister Sorry frequently looking at her phone from different angles, hooked into the prospect of learning more about this dangerous presence that has erupted into her life. Christopher Sears is terrific as Jack Flash with a volcanic energy that starts high and can only spike after that. This goes to 11 as Spinal Tap says. There are quiet moments exchanged between them and the director BSC Artistic Associate Joe Calarco has choreographed them to bring them almost together which recalls his superb work with the chorus of witnesses in “Breaking the Code.” The two could easily flesh out even more of their characters if the script had provided more for them to do.
The minimal set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams with lighting design by David Lander and sound by David Budries works very well for the story. It’s a simple raised square which has two desks on it (one for the phone and one for the answering machine) positioned like a diamond to the back wall with three steel pillars on the upstage corners that rise to the flies. The exposed stage wall has a section of flyers that can be individually lit which Jack uses a rolling ladder to access. At times Jack prowls the outside of the square like the animal caging the prey. When they are brought close, there was a fantastic lighting effect that caught his face when he crouched and spread to illuminate it again when he was standing straight up. The costumes by Debra Kim Sivigny are neat and have character defining aspects. I liked how Jack used his shirt sleeves, constantly pushing them up and Sister Sorry had a graceful way with her sheer blue sweater. The callers include among others BSC Artistic Associates Mark H. Dold, Peggy Pharr Wilson and the phenomenal woman playing Nina Simone in Stockbridge, Felicia Curry.
Plays about justice and accountability would seem to be a good choice these days when feelings of rage are boiling up… but that’s not this play. It is instructive on how not to make an apology. I am sure it is better to take full responsibility for all you have harmed in whatever way without making any excuses and accepting whatever consequences are deemed appropriate, vowing to never repeat your transgressions again. That’s exactly what doesn’t happen in this play. Dealing with the play as written, it is an unsatisfying series of confrontations with pretentious claims to artistic freedom. It’s possible this play could contribute to your anger.