Theater Review: 2nd Story’s ‘Miss Reardon’ A Riveting Winner
After something of a dry spell on local stages, Warren's 2nd Story Theatre has come up with a true winner.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
After something of a dry spell on local stages, 2nd Story Theatre has come up with a true winner, a riveting production of “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little,” Paul Zindel’s brilliant one-act play about three dysfunctional schoolteacher sisters.
For one thing, the writing is terrific, fast-paced and as funny as it is disheartening. And the spot-on acting is as impressive as anything I’ve seen at 2nd Story in long while. Each of the sisters has her moment in the spotlight, and they are virtuosic, spewing the kind of half-mad vitriol that comes from leading lives of empty dreams.
The entire play takes place over the course of a few hours, as the family convenes to deal with sister Anna, who has come unglued after caring for her dying mother. But there was also an incident at school that is only talked about in the vaguest of terms, but spells trouble for Anna and her sisters.
What saves this wonderful play from becoming melodramatic is Zindel’s sense of the absurd, of the off-beat. Anna, in her craziness, has become a raging hypochondriac who looks for love in rescuing feral cats. She subsists on zucchini and fruit smoothies, becomes apoplectic around people wearing fur, and makes her point by firing a pistol loaded with blanks at those who disagree with her.
And Erin Olson owns the part, bouncing from laughter, to fear and rage.
Then there’s Lara Hakeem’s Catherine, the imbibing sister of the title, who has sacrificed her life to hold the family together. But under it all she is seething, attacking those around her with an acerbic sense of humor that’s at once funny and cruel. She is so tired of finding new ways to prepare zucchini that she resorts to snacking on raw meat that she keeps in an empty candy box.
And sister Ceil, played by a cool and callous Tanya Anderson, has risen to the post of superintendent, but her real profession is protecting Number One. She’s the one who stole Catherine’s boyfriend and married him, who would not tend to her mother during her terminal illness, but had no problem picking the house clean after she died.
And now she wants to throw Anna under the bus to save her own skin.
It’s a volatile mix that often bubbles over, especially when others enter the fray. At one point a wannabe guidance counselor, played by a hyper Susie Bowen Powers, stops by to kiss up to Ceil, or perhaps blackmail her is a better way to put it. But husband Bob can’t take the hypocrisy and the secrets. He explodes into the mother of all rants, wrapping his wife’s fur around a gagging Anna’s neck and insisting all she needs is a man. Joseph Henderson does the honors in this searing moment of truth that no one quite recovers from.
Playing downstairs in that compact space just makes the show seem all the more intense and in-your-face. The performance lasts only about 75 minutes, and with Mark Peckham’s taut direction it roars along like a runaway train.
No wonder Miss Reardon drinks a little.