The Review: Rattlestick’s The Sibling Play
Back before all the theaters went dark when I thought I was overwhelmed with theatre dates, and a plan to spend a week in Mid March seeing even more theatre in London, England, I remember feeling disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to squeeze in a trip to Rattlestick Playwrights Theater to see Ren Dara Santiago’s The Sibling Play. Produced with piece by piece productions, in association with Rising Phoenix Repertory, Rattlestick is one of those companies in NYC that tends to always deliver. I really take great effort to see everything they put forward because they take risks and opt for inventiveness over commercial, and sometimes find both in the outcome. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s two play evening, Lewiston/Clarkston and playwright Cusi Cram’s Novenas for a Lost Hospital were two such memorable events that float up in my mind when I think of that company. Both captured an idea and ran fast and hard with it. So now, as we all sit sequestered in our apartments and homes, trying to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible from the COVID19 virus, I yearn for the escape and excitement that theatre can deliver. I search for it, and luckily I was given a wee silver lining when they announced that a limited number of tickets were going to be available for view-at-home recordings of Ren Dara Santiago’s The Siblings Play. The world is shifting, and the next few weeks or even months don’t hold a lot of promise for a return, but we are finding ways, likes #StarsInTheHouse, #PlaysInTheHouse, Archival and Livestream performances from Lincoln Center, London’s National Theatre, and so many others, to remind us the power of art and theatre, and that within this creative outlet, we can find happiness and joy, diversion and investigation, and so much more. Our lives would be as dark as the theatre stage right now without these artistic souls finding ways to shed light on their pieces of art. We can feel and observe their inner turmoil, joyous celebration, and musical enlightenment because of this gift, and we must not forget how these brave acts of creativity help us get through these difficult times of crisis. Remember their importance when certain government officials try to defund arts organizations solely to bale out industries and corporations whose main focus is the bottom line. Arts is what keeps us sane and engaged in our world and the people around us.
Beginning last week, patrons of Rattlestick who purchased tickets prior to the cancellation, along with new ticket buyers, were, and are still able to buy tickets to watch a recording of The Siblings Play until midnight on Sunday, April 5. This is a rare opportunity, made possible through a generous partnership with Actors Equity Association, Stage Directors & Choreographers Society and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE, and ZANNI Productions, and an idea we should all support strongly, so future projects of this same nature over the next few months can have the same great opportunity to bring theatre and the arts into our homes. It’s something to celebrate and encourage, and something we all need more than we ever knew.
Rattlestick Artistic Director Daniella Topol says, “While we’re heartbroken that Rattlestick is unable to welcome audiences into our intimate theater to experience The Siblings Play live, we feel fortunate that we were able to record the production during its final performance. We’re especially grateful to Jon Burklund at ZANNI Productions for making this recording available to audiences so quickly, especially during these challenging times. We look forward to finding innovative ways to engage in community conversations around the themes of Ren’s play.”
The Siblings Play brings us out of our homes, and inside a rent-stabilized Harlem apartment in 2014. The desperation that exists within entwines three siblings to one another as they stand perilously close to the edge of a cliff. The ground they stand on is shaky and precarious, threatening destruction and abandonment, but they have each other’s back, for the most part. The stand up strong for one another, giving up their possible futures in order to take care of one another. Directed with passion and awkward flair by Jenna Worsham (59E59’s AGNES), The Siblings Play jumps into the memory abyss that lies below, wading into the deep dark psyche of a wise and determined teenage girl, Marie played strongly by Cindy De La Cruz (ArsNova’s DreamHouse), and her two brothers, young Butchie touchingly portrayed by the thoroughly engaging Mateo Ferro (Kennedy Center’s In The Heights) and the older brother, Leon, wisely played by a tough Ed Ventura (Rattlestick’s The Parlour). Even when one parent is in the actual room, they are basically left to raise one another and watch out for one another. They don’t quite have the skills to do it well, but they try with a ferociousness of a cornered lion, as their parents fight furiously with one another almost oblivious to how their anger is infecting the room. The parents, played powerfully by Dalia Davi (EST’s Dido of Idaho) as Lenora and Andy Lucien (PH’s The Qualms) as Logan, fluctuate from being there to being gone, as they too try to cope with their own barriers against attachment and love. They were too young when they married to even know how to care for themselves, let alone three children, but the dysfunctional patterns of engagement and care live on, rising up in the oldest two children as the young siblings scrabble to protect and fight for their combined unity and safety.
Historical stereotypes and racial commentary spin forward as the fractured traumatic memories grab hold, tearing apart the young daughter and take over the space with a deliberate tension. This is all thanks to solid work done by set designer Angelica Borrero (EST’s Dido of Idaho), with concise costuming by Andy Jean (Vineyard’s Good Grief), dynamic and purposeful lighting by Zach Blane (59E59’s The Good Girl), and clear and determined sound design by Michael Costagliola (Rattlestick’s Lewiston/Clarkston). Playwright Ren Dara Santiago (Come To Starr Street; The Gods Play) has a lot to say about the complexity of growing up with parents who show troubling signs of dysfunction and dismissal. She stumbles a fair bit, here and there, throwing too many complicated cookies and ice cream into the pot, but when the ideas feel right and stick, they are weighted with authenticity and clarity, particularly in her language and their interactions. A stronger edit and a more cutthroat directorial vision could heighten the intensity of the troubling situation.
“All you see is what you had to give up” is an idea thrown from one parent to another and the victim observation sticks. The whole family is drowning, each in their own way, being pulled under by their complicated actions and their heartfelt attempts to save the other, endlessly fighting for survival but failing to see their own need. We are told when one trains to become a lifeguard, to make sure you are safe before you try to save another because if you don’t, both will drown. In The Siblings Play that rule and outlook is needed more than their romanticized ideals of taking care of the other. “I got you” is a solid ideal, but said by a drowning teenager to an even younger drowning teen doesn’t win the video game in the end. The play builds and builds to a climax that never really fulfills the climb, but the details and the emotional disintegration of the family rings true. Pain and ferocious blame infiltrate the family, crimpling the intentions and shutting off the lights of connectivity, leaving them scrambling in the dark for salvation that might never fully come. Or maybe it does. Time will tell. The specialness spins and gets lost in the cracks of this family’s structure and in the abrupt kiss of attraction, but the glimpse inside feels real and engaging. Did it save me from my own self-isolation? I’m not sure, as the isolation felt a bit heavier but easier, all at the same time. That’s a compliment by the way, mainly because The Siblings Play is strong and determined to leap over the cliff into the uncertainty of the future and bravely take a solid look at what happens when “I got you” is not quite enough.
Ed Ventura, Cindy De La Cruz in The Siblings Play.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and piece by piece productions
in association with Rising Phoenix Repertory. Written by Ren Dara Santiago. Directed by Jenna Worsham. With Community Partners: Counseling in the Schools, Drama Club, Healing Tree, New York Foundling, and Student Leadership Network. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
View-at-home tickets are $15 and can be purchased by visiting rattlestick.org or by calling 212-627-2556. Standard ticketing fees apply to all orders. Purchasers will receive a link to a password-protected site from Rattlestick to view the production which will expire at midnight on Sunday, April 5.
This just in from Rattlestick Playwrights Theater:
RATTLESTICK PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER ANNOUNCES FREE WEEKLY ONLINE PROGRAMMING
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is proud to announce a series of free weekly online programs designed to connect audiences with new ideas and artistic expressions. On Tuesdays, beginning April 7, the Virtual Salon Series will explore the coronavirus pandemic through in-depth conversations between an artist and a leading expert.
On April 7 at 3pm, Tony Award-nominated and four-time Obie-winning actress Kathleen Chalfant joins medical epidemiologist and pandemic preparedness expert Dr. Steven C. Phillips in conversation. In On the Role of Epidemics on April 14 at 3pm, actor Zachary Quinto joins Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman in a discussion on the role of epidemics in Manhattan. On April 21 at 3pm, playwright Cori Thomas (Lockdown) and formerly incarcerated teaching artist Robert Pollock discuss the challenges of incarceration during a pandemic.
“In this very isolating time, Rattlestick’s mission to connect and stimulate audiences feels more important than ever,” says Artistic Director Daniella Topol. “By using theatrical expression and community conversation to bring us all together, my hope is that different perspectives and networks can help us navigate these challenging times.”
Online reservations are required. Please visit rattlestick.org for more information.
Founded in 1994, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater consistently produces new voices and works that are provocative and immediate in both form and substance. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Daniella Topol, Rattlestick has a deep commitment to producing fierce works that challenge and stimulate audiences to confront the complexities of our culture.