Contemplating Marion Bridge, Hyde Park Theatre’s latest stage offering, my mind lands upon an old Mary Karr quote: “[the] working definition for a dysfunctional family: any family with more than one person in it.”
The play, written by Daniel MacIvor and directed by Ken Webster, features three adult sisters—Agnes (Rebecca Robinson), Theresa (Emily Erington) and Louise (Kelsey Kling)— reunited by the rapidly declining health of their mother. Mum’s impending death might be the end for her, but for her daughters it looses a live wire that reanimates a forever-entrenched family dynamic courtesy of a most undesired family reunion.
This is not the first time Marion Bridge has played HPT. It debuted there in 2002, garnering great critical kudos. This time around, the same cast has returned. I didn’t catch the first presentation so I can’t make a comparison here, though I do wish I could travel back in time to see how the actresses have grown and changed over the years. As for the present moment, I can say that all three actresses fully and believably inhabit their characters. Agnes is the boozy, angry eldest, wrapped up in a long ago rage she cannot seem to shake. Theresa is a nun facing a crisis of faith, not to mention a crisis of dealing with Agnes. And Louise, the youngest, is what we might call a bit daft, a simple gal most concerned with her TV shows.
You get the sense that left to their own vices and devices—booze, god, tube—each of the sisters does okay, holds steady. But put them together where they can bear witness to one another’s traits, and these traits quickly get called out as shortcomings and addictions. Everybody is jumping everybody’ else’s shit.
Marion Bridge is billed as a bittersweet comedy. For me it’s a fantastic example of how very involved the audience can become with the action on stage. I could easily spot the bittersweet, to be sure. Spotting the comedy part was harder for me, which very much ties into my personal life. Granted there are many moments of levity. But as it happens, I have seven sisters, and know all too well what can occur where two or more of us are gathered in the name of telling each other the "right" way to live. I couldn’t escape thinking of a trip I took back to my hometown for my father’s funeral, and the utter absurdity that ensued, the words and emotions hurled around the room, the rippling fallout.
With that memory as my litmus test, I promise you Robinson, Erington and Kling strike a perfect sibling tone. In fact it made more than a little sense to reunite them on the stage—not just because of their familiarity with the roles, but because they clearly share what feels like a very real sisterly connection, a bond that has grown over the years.
And I can never deliver a HPT review without a major shout out to set designer Paul Davis. His attention to details borders on the (delightfully) obsessive and the minute I walked in I was, as I always am, swept away by his work. From our seats we could see a piece of the stage not everyone else could – a quasi-backstage area. I noted that despite knowing that only a handful of us would be able to see and appreciate it, Davis had included a fake electrical outlet which just tickled me. If I ever overhaul my house I hope he’ll come and be in charge of the project.
Hyde Park Theatre is located at 511 W. 43rd Street. Marion Bridge runs at 8:00 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, September 8 - October 8, 2011. Every Thursday is Pay What You Can Night; Friday, and Saturday tickets are $19 ($17 for students, seniors, and ACOT members), except for the final weekend (August 4-6), when ticket are $21 ($19 for students, seniors, and ACOT members). For reservations, call 479-PLAY or purchase tickets online.