“My Sister” Returns to LA for a Run at the Odyssey

My Sister was a breakout hit at last summer’s Hollywood Fringe. Now it’s returned, wearing a few new scenes and lines, for a good long run at the Odyssey.

It’s still a quiet two-hander,  about twin sisters trying to make it in the cabarets of 1930s Berlin — Magda as a performer, Matilde as her writer.  It still enmeshes us at once with their fierce, sweet love and their whispered mantra, Immer zusammen (“Always together”).

Emily Hinkler, Elizabeth Hinkler

Emily Hinkler, Elizabeth Hinkler

And it still moves toward the inevitable tragedy. Magda (Emily Hinkler) scrubs hospital floors and tends mentally ill patients by day, so she can throw on a costume and rush to the club each night. Matilde (Elizabeth Hinkler) stays home, writing Madga’s saucy routines — and hiding her cerebral palsy from the world.

Soon, they catch a break: Magda earns a regular spot on the club’s bill. But just as soon, street gangs and the Reichstag fire catapult the Nazis into power. Matilde wants to redouble her barbed attacks; Magda wants to back off.  Then events at the hospital force Magda to “pay attention,” in Matilde’s words, and see what’s happening.

The Hinkler sisters seem never to be acting; they simply inhabit their roles, believing them so fully that we must also. As Magda dances on the treadmill, with only her sister and the stage for sustenance, we feel how achingly hard it is to fight for a living — without trying to sort through a blizzard of propaganda and lies. As Matilde dances with her disability, her deep heart and razor wit utterly persuade us that art and life only matter if they can be done honestly.

Ron Sossi’s co-direction has added more anger to the sisters’ clashes over everything from menstrual pads to politics, but the humor and tenderness remain. Janet Schlapkohl’s rewrite lets us see more of Magda’s cabaret routines (accompanied by Barbara Rottman), and expands key moments (the Reichstag fire, for example, has grown from a news item to an event we experience).

But the arc is unchanged. This play makes us love these two women — desperately, already knowing the outcome — hoping they can somehow outwit hatred and overwhelming force.  They cannot. And we then feel some of what was lost, some of the horror of what humans can do — have done and are still doing — to each other.

You really can’t ask anything more of theatre. This important and powerful work, excellently staged and flawlessly performed, is a gift — albeit a difficult, even painful one. Open it and see.
My Sister, by Janet Schlapkohl, co-directed by Ron Sossi and Paul David Story.
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., LA 90025.

Wednesday Feb. 3 and Feb 24 at 8:00;
Thursday Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 at 8:00;
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00, through March 6.

Tickets:  <www.OdyssseyTheatre.com> or (310)477-2055

“How Love Lasts” Puts Real-Life Loves Onstage

Finding a partner isn’t easy. Staying with one is even harder.

No surprise, really. Unless we grew up in a home created by a strong, loving partnership, we may never have seen one. Really seen it, close up and personal enough to know how it works.

Yet most of us try it anyway.

Paul Weinberg, David Hartstone

Paul Weinberg, David Hartstone

(back) Briana McLean, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann; (front) Claudia Crook, David Hartstone

(back) Briana McLean, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann; (front) Claudia Crook, David Hartstone

One new-minted couple, a pair of LA theatre artists, were unwilling to fly in the dark. So Brooke Bishop (City Shakespeare’s artistic director) and Daniel Landberg (a composer and tech consultant) quit their jobs and drove around the country for a month, coast to coast, talking with 50 couples who’d enjoyed long, successful relationships.

The result was, for them, a new sense of clarity and confidence.  And for us — after months of work, using the Tectonic Theatre’s process for creating The Laramie Project — their play How Love Lasts, a quiet,  immersive piece that’s just had its world-premiere run.

How Love Lasts interweaves five of the stories Bishop and Landberg heard, for 80 minutes in an intimate setting (22 audience seats, plus nine for the actors). In overlapping turns, the lovers tell their stories.

Such storytelling seems untheatrical — no protagonist, no building conflict or dramatic climax, not even a peak event (such as Laramie‘s public trial). Bishop, as director, wisely led her cast in Tectonic’s “non-verbal moment”  technique,  so that each couple’s relating takes on clear physical forms.

But it’s the drama within each story that holds us. No couple goes  unscathed, and the trials they encounter are real “deal-breakers.” Yet they all find a way through. Even Jan, whose partner Marsha was stolen by cancer after only a few years, found she couldn’t just “move on.” Instead, “I sort of took her inside me and became us.”

The play’s text is verbatim from the interviews (with only a brief voice-over introduction). And the six actors each play more than one role. Again, Bishop wisely plays it close to the chest. Small cues — a sweater, a hairdo, an actor walking toward the next space — let most of the change emerge in the way a character carries herself, the way he looks at his mate. The actors accomplish this subtly and clearly.

The audience this night ranges from youthful singles to two couples in their 70s. All are engaged, attentive (though one senior nods a bit), caught by these characters and eager to hear what works, what gets them through.

How Love Lasts takes an inventive tack in addressing a question that’s near-universal in our culture (and on our screens and stages.) It goes immeasurably beyond any rom-com, reaching real depth swiftly and surely, always treating its characters with respect. Its outcome is comic, in the classical sense, because these loves survive; but it gets there by facing the tragedies that beset us all when we dare to love.

Bishop and Landberg have opened what I hope will be an ongoing theatrical conversation. How Love Lasts stands on it own, and deserves further runs, here and elsewhere. But it also suggests other questions — How does love end? Or fail to come together? How do parents and children, or siblings, find ways to sustain trust and intimacy through life’s huge challenges?

Theatre tries to explore such key questions in our domestic lives — but we don’t need any more kitchen-sink dramas. We do need to ask real people for permission to borrow their lives and words, and to weave their stories around themes that matter. Thanks to Bishop and Landberg — and their troupe — for getting the process started.
How Love Lasts, by Brooke Bishop and Daniel Landberg, directed by Brooke Bishop.
Presented by Bishop and Landberg, at Red Gate Recorders, 4440 York Blvd., LA 90041.

The Company: Claudia Crook, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, David Hartstone, Briana McLean, Samantha Smart, Paul Weinberg.

BULLETIN (22 February 2016)
After their first sucessful run,
How Love Lasts is being re-staged at Red Gate Recorders.

Thursdays at 8:00, through March 24.

Tickets: Pay What You Want, <www.howlovelasts.com/live-show>