Review: FOUR SISTERS (Part of Luminato)

by Lynn on June 14, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written and Directed by Susanna Fournier

Scenography, Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Christopher Ross-Ewart

Video Design Steph Raposo

Choreographer, Amanda Acorn

Cast: Krystina Bojanowski

Yolanda Bonnell

Jennifer Dahl

Aria Evans

Virgilia Griffith

Ximena Huizi

Chala Hunter

Claudia Moore

Bea Pizano

Four Sisters is the third part and final part of The Empire by Susanna Fournier. The Empire covers 500 years of an imagined empire in which Fournier has explored war, power, brutality and the subjugation of women, economic systems that are unfair and crushing.

The Story. Four Sisters takes place over several years in an area of an unnamed city called “The Skirts” and is populated by women who are mainly sex trade workers. At the beginning of the play Sarah is 350 years old and a former madame  If a character says she is 350 years old, who are we to question her? It’s theatre. We take this on faith.  Sarah  is taking care of four young girls who are sisters: Beah, Abby, Cassie and Dee. Their mother has died.  Sarah does the best she can to raise them and keep them safe, but they are sick with some mysterious illness. They are assured by the doctor that this illness is not the plague.  The doctor has a new vaccine and wants to try it on the girls as an experiment for this mysterious disease. (The doctor is a woman—there are no men in Four Sister). Sarah says she can’t pay. The doctor assures her it’s free since it’s an experiment. In spite of all this Cassie dies and the others survive. Later we learn that two of the sisters may have been given a placebo. Over time the sisters leave for various reasons, despair being one. “The Skirts” is being isolated by the politicians of the city so that the women will suffer. The roads leading to there are deteriorating and so getting to and from the place is difficult.

The Production. Before we enter the space there is a ritual cleansing, with a person pouring water on our hands and another handing us a hand towel to wipe them dry.

Kaitlin Hickey’s set is bare except for a large white mat on the floor. The costumes are variations of sweatpants and sweat shirts, with hoodies thrown in for good measure. The women enter and walk in formation around and across the white mat, sometimes dancing or swaying in Amanda Acorn’s choreography. This choreography occurs throughout the whole production. The point and meaning is not clear.

Sarah is played by the same actress throughout—a wonderful, feisty, Bea Pizano without make-up. We take on faith that she starts out at 350 and then gets older without makeup or body language.

As the director, Susanna Fournier does a wonderful thing. When a scene changes and the character ages 10 years or 40 years etc. then another actress just takes over and plays the part. So of the cast of nine characters, seven change characters as the characters get older. Cassie is still dead and is played by a ghost-like Claudia Moore. Virgilia Griffith is a forceful, commanding Dee, sometimes drugged out, always with attitude.

When characters are not in a scene they arrange themselves upstage along the edge of the white mat folding large piles of what seem like hand towels—are they the same kind of hand towel we used when water was poured on our hands for the cleans? For what purpose are they folding? Are they folding the towels we just used? Why?

Comment. According to her program note, Susanna Fournier is attempting to  illuminate a world where women are held down by economics, politics, attitudes and low wages and live in poverty. Four Sisters is inventive in intent and bold in the execution. But much of it was mystifying: symbolism over substance.

I wondered what is the plague that is referred to?  Does it refer to the plague of the middle ages? Does it refer to AIDS? What is the sickness these women have and the vaccine that was supposed to help them? I’m trying to find context here.

Sarah says she can’t pay for the medicine but the Doctor said she didn’t want payment. Later the doctor wanted to give the family money for their being involved in the experiment—she made money from it—but Sarah refused it. So the doctor gave them money—how is this looked on as women living in poverty that keeps them there? I found there were more questions than answers and that was frustrating. Of the three plays, I found this the weakest.

But there is also a note of irony here. While there is much comment of how women are kept down by an economic system, Susanna Fournier wrote three plays depicting a dystopian world, and her stalwart group of women, raised the money to produce this trilogy, publicized it, marketed it, found the venues and producing partner and got it on. They were unstoppable. Does that not contradict the point of the trilogy?

Paradigm Productions presents.

Four Sisters plays at the Theatre Centre until June 16 as part of Luminato.

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