Sisters' Follies: Between Two Worlds
There are two sisters in Sisters' Follies: Between Two Worlds: Alice and Irene Lewisohn, who founded the Abrons’ Playhouse in 1915 and to whom this celebration of the Abrons Art Center’s centennial is dedicated. The follies of this imaginative but muddled pageant, alas, are more numerous.
New York performance icons Joey Arias and Julie Atlas Muz play the ghosts of the Lewisohns, haunting their old theater. They first appear floating in mist above the stage, draped in diaphanous white gowns, and their faces—while bickering over credit and prestige—are projected on the masks of comedy and tragedy that sit atop the proscenium. As the show goes on, they re-create moments from the venue’s early productions: exotically campy spectacles like Jephthah’s Daughter (Biblical), The Queen’s Enemies (Egyptian) and The Kairn of Koridwen (Celtic).
Directed and designed by master puppeteer Basil Twist, these vignettes are stuffed with amusing stage tricks, including lovely fabric effects, adorable fake animals and puffy-faced crowds, as well as eye-popping costumes by Machine Dazzle. On their own, these bits can be delightful, even if they often suffer from technical difficulties. (An extended aerial fight sequence that should be a showstopper merely brings the show to a long and awkward stumble.)
But Arias’s laissez-faire approach, so charismatic in other contexts, verges on lethargic here; although burlesque-dance queen Muz is livelier, the two strike no sparks together. And the coolness of the stars—both of whom have earned great affection from downtown audiences over the years—is undermined by the tepidness of the writing, which lauds the venue’s history of experimentalism in bland, stodgy exposition and lame special-material lyrics. The Abrons deserves to be celebrated, and Twist has devoted significant imagination toward doing so. With all the magic in evidence here, couldn’t someone have conjured up a script?
Abrons Arts Center (Off Broadway). By Basil Twist, Julie Atlas Muz and Joey Arias. Directed by Twist. With Arias, Muz. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
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