JC’S THEATRE SPOTLIGHT – The Donohue Sisters

A charming, rustic old homestead setting on Galway Bay.  Settle in, I told myself, for a nostalgic tale of the childhood adventures of three sisters whose busy adult lives have taken them off in far-flung directions.  Well, okay … technically, I had it all right.

But somewhere around three quarters of an hour in, it all takes a holy hellion of a left turn.  How did such a charming premise leave me staggering out of the theatre wondering what hit me??  It’s not often the lights come up at the end of the show, and you need a minute or two to gather yourself, while audience members kind of look around at each other, saying, “Well, that just happened.”  And the whole experience in one concise act, sub-sixty minutes.

The evening began with something I’d never seen in live theatre before – a “coming attraction” preview.  A live reading of a scene from a forthcoming LunaSea Theatre production, “Les and Dawn”, very clever. 

Then the Donohues hit the stage, dancing in the loft playroom of their childhood home, the girls as kids each two years apart but as tight only sisters can be.  As grown women, they regroup upstairs to reminisce.  And as the beverage turns from the old tea set into vodka, and the herbal cigarette appears, the conversation turns decidedly darker. 

The three explore their various challenges and disappointments.  Loveless relationships, vain attempts to maintain youth, unruly kids of their own, an adulterous husband (with a “Grace Jones lookalike”, an hilarious reference that may have sent a few patrons to Google Images).  And the discovery that they’re no longer as connected as they once were.  The middle one, Annie, elicits a melancholic gasp from the audience when she confesses to her older sister, “I used to look up to you, Rosie.  When we were kids, I thought the sun shone out of ya, so I did.  Now you hardly cross my mind.”

The memories build to a pivotal, dark recollection from their wee years, when at the ages of 9, 11, and 13, the girls found themselves over their heads in a moment of sexual discovery.  I ain’t sayin’ no more.

Engaging interplay, compact but beautiful staging.  It’s the show that launched LunaSea Theatre eleven years ago, and they’ve brought it back.  It perfectly suits their mission statement of presenting unique women’s stories and perspectives, and believe me, this one is unique.

The Donohue Sisters was the play I’ve most looked forward to seeing so far this year.  Partly because I’ve been working closely with one of its stars, Ryanne Chisholm (Annie).  As my acting “mentor” for an upcoming Eastern Front Theatre fundraiser, So You Think You Can Act (spoiler:  I can’t!!), Ryanne has given me some very cool insight to the acting process by describing some of the Donohue rehearsal moments.  Character development, acting technique, and ensemble teamwork, including coordination of their Galway accents, and its subtle differences in the adult and childhood versions of their characters.  Watching all of this unfold on the live stage was exhilarating, and drove home just how complex an art acting really is.  They just make it look soooooo easy! 

Genevieve Steele as the eldest sister, Rosie, and Francine Deschapper as the youngest, Dunya, complete the gifted trio.  Martha Irving’s minimalist direction leaves plenty of room for the actors’ sibling love, loyalty and rivalry to bloom as their defences slip away. 

The Donohue Sisters plays at The Waiting Room in the old Acadian Bus Lines terminal on Agricola Street until March 25th.

More on So You Think You Can Act: http://www.easternfronttheatre.com/special-events/so-you-think-you-can-act/