Two Sisters | Emanuel Synagogue

There is something special about family, these people who have known you forever and supposedly know you better than anyone else. And yet, in reminiscing, sometimes siblings are revealed to be strangers, memories misremembered, and key qualities forgotten. In Two Sisters, shared lives become complicated and secrets prove painful despite time and distance.

Edith (Annie Byron) and Rika (Jean Kittson) have come together in Israel to celebrate Edith’s birthday. On Rika’s last night before flying home to California with her granddaughter Jeanine, the two ageing sisters swap memories of moving to Israel in their youths, reflect on their marriages, and compare how they’ve chosen to spend their golden years. It could all be very pleasant if the two women weren’t endlessly critical of each other, holding 40-year-old secrets over each other for silent satisfaction, and, then, Jeanine reveals she won’t be returning to California after all.

Gail Louw’s script is about life’s choices and the many varied paths people take to get what they (think they) want. Edith and Rika are very different but they still hold each other close as touchstones to the decisions of their lives including both regrets and joys. Edith is the older sister and she wielded her authority seriously. Byron’s performance was dry and dismissive but her strong Socialist spirit still reared its head in romantic reminisces. It must be said, though, that Edith’s romanticising of the settlement of Israel was uncomfortable considering the war crimes committed against Palestinian people over the past month. Opposite, Rika was self-pitying and felt most herself when whinging but Kittson’s portrayal of her added a compelling vulnerability and dramatic self-awareness that prevented the character from becoming a drag.

The direction of this staged reading by Nicholas Papademetriou was gentle and familiar, keeping the focus on the dynamics between these two sisters. The set was similarly simple, comprised of two chairs and a radio to represent Edith’s modest living arrangements. But this pared back approach also allowed the talents of these two performers to flourish as they navigated the nooks and crannies of Edith and Rika’s long relationship from the well-worn stories of Grandma dropping her pants in public to the hidden disappointments of squandered youth and failed love stories.

What does it mean to truely know someone else? Is there room in familial love for regret and jealousy? How long is too long to hold a grudge? For Edith and Rika, even if they knew the answers, the next generation is bound to repeat their mistakes. But that’s life and that’s love.

Two Sisters ran at Emanuel Synagogue from May 19th – 23rd

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