The Lower East Side (LES) and East Village (like the rest of New York City) are packed with history, cool stories and drama. I’m doing a mini-salute today to the areas with three posts about the proposed new Lowline Park, the legendary 80s club, The Pyramid and the new show Sister’s Follies.
The non-profit theater, Abrons Arts has been going for 100 years now, and it commissioned Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds for its centennial. It’s a musical ghost story about the two sisters, Alice and Irene Lewisohn who in 1915 started the Neighborhood Playhouse. Alice (1883-1972) was an actress and an associate of Carl Jung’s in Zurich and Irene (1892-1944), who specialized in dance, was one of the founders of what is now the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (There’s a funny dig at Anna Wintour.)
The sister duo is played by Joey Arias and Julie Atlas Muz and the show starts off with the “wow factor” of having the them fly through the air as ghosts and a beyond-the-grave sibling rivalry is set-up. The two are projected onto the faces of comedy and tragedy on the proscenium arch of the stage to set up each new production, recreated in the most imaginative way by Twist’s wizardry. Alice and Irene fight their way through years of obscure productions, each trying to outdo the other. There’s a bit of Death Becomes Her to the whole thing and at times, knowing Joey as I have for decades, it seemed as though that he was making up half of his lines as he went along. (In fact, the show’s script is a collaboration by Mr. Twist, Ms. Muz and Mr. Arias.) Joey is a force to be reckoned with onstage and off, but Ms. Muz held her own and then some. She does a very funny (topless) take-off on modern dance which was the most fully realized of all of the set pieces. There were contemporary references made as asides and Joey’s Midnight at the Oasis number –complete with dancing camel, horse and snake– brought the show closer to the present day. Not really knowing the basic storyline, the history lesson was a bit fuzzy around the edges, but once the story unfolded through each new vintage production staging, you were baited by the dazzling staging to anticipate what would come next. The whole thing was really a low-tech, big production in a tiny theater and a behind-the-scenes video of how it’s done would be fascinating. It all climaxed in a cemetery wedding scene and as Ben Brantly said in the New York Times review of the show…
The show’s main magician, Basil Twist, is the internationally renowned director and puppeteer, who was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning and just got the MacArthur “genius” grant –which, by the way, comes with $625,000, bringing our world lots more genius productions like this one, no doubt.
“The graveyard mise-en-scène he has come up with for the sisters’ interpretation of the Yiddish classic ‘The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds’ is a spook-house connoisseur’s delight. In the best of all possible worlds (or two worlds), New York City would give Mr. Twist an unlimited budget to do up the town for Halloween in haute-scary chic.”
The fantastic morphing cast includes Kate Brehm, Lute Breuer, Chris De Ville, Ben Elling, Jonothon Lyons, Katie Melby, David Ojala, Jessica Scott, Rachael Shane, and Ashley Winkfield. and the creative team is lighting designer Poe Saegusa, costume designer Machine Dazzle, sound design by A-Key, projection designer Daniel Brodie and Gabriel Aronson, and Thomas Wilfred‘s CLAVILUX Recreation by Joshua Light Show. The show has just extended its world-premiere run through November 7. You can get tickets here.