Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: MY SISTER - a Compelling Story Transfers to the Odyssey

Emily Hinkler and Elizabeth Hinkler
Photos by Enci Box

Janet Schlapkohl’s play with songs, My Sister, began as a vehicle for twin sisters Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler while they were attending the University of Iowa where Schlapkohl was an adjunct professor. Since then, it has received a number of developmental runs, most recently one that garnered it “The DUENDE Distinction” sponsored by The Vagrancy for “irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical” at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

Now it plays the Odyssey Theatre in what is being described as an expanded production directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story. Not having seen it at the fringe, I can’t speak to how the story has been expanded, other than to say it now runs 95 minutes without intermission, up from its original 65 minutes.

Adding half an hour’s worth of material is a significant leap in the way a play tells its story and it is a process that requires careful consideration. While My Sister certainly has merit, in this version it also suffers from redundancy.

The Hinklers play twin sisters Magda (Emily) and Matilde (Elizabeth) who move to Berlin in search of a dream. By day, Magda is a hospital worker but, by night, she performs in a lesbian club with material written by her sister. Politically-minded Matilde, who also has cerebral palsy, spends her days in their apartment listening to the radio and devising new stories and jokes for the act she knows will make her sister famous.

It would seem to be a perfect scenario for two young women looking to spread their wings and make something of themselves in the world. But this is 1930’s Germany at the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party and a dangerous time to be different. As the chaos around them surges, it becomes more and more difficult to keep reality from knocking on their door. 

A shadowy prologue reminiscent of Sondheim’s Follies sets up an intriguing air of mystery which pays off nicely in the epilogue but Magda’s club act can’t help but be compared to another musical theatre classic, Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. This one is a pale imitation that feels forced, complete with a canned laugh track that blasts intrusively.

Remaining scenes all take place in the sisters’ apartment when Magda comes home to change clothes between jobs. She tells Matilde about hospital business, repeats her performance for her sister, and leaves for her next job. Tilde writes and listens to the radio. Outside the conflict escalates. Rinse, repeat.

By the time the crisis comes to a head, we know where the story is going. Unfortunately, its climactic moment happens off stage and, like almost everything else in the play, we are left to hear about it after the fact.

The addition of a threadbare set design by Pete Hickok adds authenticity to time and place as do fraying period costumes by Audrey Eisner. But taking the play out of a smaller fringe venue and putting it on a larger stage means the playwright must keep the story compelling, especially if she is adding 30 minutes of dialogue and action. At the moment, scenes are largely repetitive and the actors are working harder than they should to tell this story, which still feels like a senior class project.

Few moments are as poignantly effective as the one in which Emily silently exercises her sister’s atrophying muscles. The emotional core of the piece lies in their bond. And, while the real-life sisters share a bright future ahead, the play itself could look to its past for help in the editing department.



MY SISTER
January 16 - March 6, 2016

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
Tickets: (310) 477-2055 x 2 or www.odysseytheatre.com

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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