Woody Weingarten

Reviews, etc.

‘Sister Play’ at Magic Theatre offers laughs, long toenails, mayhem and love

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

No one plays board games in the new comedic drama, “Sister Play.”

Lilly (Jessi Campbell, right) demands love from her older sister, Anna (Lisa Brescia), in “Sister Play.” Photo by Jennifer Reiley.

And there’s no jump rope.

Repartee is the main pastime adult sisters Anna and Lilly engage in, alternating clever lines that guarantee Magic Theatre audiences will laugh loud and long.

Playful, zigzagging yet revealing soliloquies also flow from the mind of writer-director John Kolvenbach to the mouths of the siblings.

The same is true for two other off-kilter characters, Malcolm (Anna’s wooly-headed husband), and William Casy, a enigmatic drifter from Texas whom Lily picks up from the side of a Cape Cod highway.

All their monologues seem to begin with logic but end in amusing morasses of fractured philosophy and religion.

In between?

Non-sequiturs. Hyperbole. Near-gibberish that sounds poetic.

The setting is a rundown cabin to which we’re introduced when Malcolm thinks aloud: “What percentage of this place is mold, do you think?”

But the key question is if family fortresses and defenders can be over-protective.

I unconditionally loved Kolvenbach’s character-driven play.

I loved how all four intimately intertwined — and how so much of the human condition unraveled so quickly.

I loved how long toenails and a foot fetish, towels and the singing of a Roy Orbison tune, “Blue Bayou,” became comic foils.

But always I could sense an underlying seriousness.

Such as an early metaphoric foreshadowing when frantic, Lilly (wondrously fleshed out by Jessi Campbell) insisted that Anna (played with steely older-sister determination by Lisa Brescia) put her total weight on Lilly’s lap.

Such as later discussions of getting pregnant.

Such as the funny asides and mental meanderings of Malcolm (through the artistry of Anthony Fusco, a Richard Jenkins lookalike and soundalike who’s an A.C.T. stalwart), and the marvelous deadpan drawl of Patrick Kelly Jones as William.

Whether the dialogue was rib-ticking or solemn, I couldn’t wait to find out what came next.

Now and then, though, I was faced with pithy character summaries.

I can still hear 30-year-old bed-hopping Lilly saying, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

And Anna griping to her late, lamented father, “You left me holding the bag.”

Add to those Malcolm’s assertion that “I’m a pamphlet between two related tomes…written in a language I don’t understand…two books telling one story.”

And this poignant couplet: Anna — “You seem lost.” Lily — “I am.” When this goes to two lines it is hard to follow.

The company’s artistic director, Loretta Greco, showed great perceptiveness when indicating in the program guide that Kolvenbach’s characters here, as usual, “binge on mayhem.”

Some of his skillfully crafted chaos was psychological (probing constructive love vs. smothering love).

Some was tangible (therapeutic book-throwing).

In either case, Kolvenbach’s timing — and each actor’s, in fact — must be labeled exquisite.

Magic devotees were probably already familiar with the playwright’s talent, because Kolvenbach’s “Goldfish” and “Mrs. Whitney” were staged there in 2009.

Yet “Sister Play” proves that even a basically flawless show can’t satisfy everyone.

One elderly woman, after telling me during the opening night’s post-play reception that the acting had been excellent, twice added, “I don’t understand what was funny.”

Rather than be rude, I left my response unsaid:

“In my opinion, almost everything.”

“Sister Play” runs through April 19 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Night performances Tuesdays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees, Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $20 to $60. Information: www.magictheatre.org or (415) 441-8822.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or check out his blog at www.vitalitypress.com