No Provenance

by Cheryl King · August 15, 2014

When sisters fight, it’s distressing. When they fight over who loved who best, it’s alarming. When the fates get involved, it becomes high drama.

Kate Holland and Caroline Prugh have penned a play where Clotho, the spinning sister of the three Greek fates, provides the narrative thread and the central object. Clotho, played by Carole Forman, is an appealing character, exhibiting great warmth and charm, as she pops in and out of the action to engage the players. She provides us our first and last look at this story about three sisters, who share a father, Joseph Belitsa, and not much else, until they meet in Paris to fulfill his will and divide his belongings – belongings that were accumulated by their father’s grandmother, a famous actress, before she disappeared during World War II.

The fact that she was a Jewish actress has much to do with her disappearance, and the fact that Libby Skala plays her has much to do with how delightful this story is. She is written large, and Libby lives up to the challenge, with dramatic gestures worthy of a Theda Bara. In her performance of Josephine--grandmother of Joseph Belitsa--Libby moves effortlessly from confident to childlike, and is supported beautifully by the solid force of Michelle Ramoni as her best friend and dresser, Suzanne Ducroix. Michelle, who often plays the histrionic type herself, is a powerful actor, and she provides one of the most moving moments in the play, near the end, when she comes onstage, without a word, to drape the furniture in dust covers. It’s a deeply significant scene, when the story has to shift and time needs a breath, and Michelle shows us all the power of her love for Josephine as she tenderly smoothes the fabric. The cloth becomes a stand-in for the missing Josephine, as she caresses it one last time, and the laying of it a substitute for the goodbye she never got.

The three sisters are introduced to the apartment of their great-grandmother Josephine by Marcelle, the great-grand-niece of Suzanne, played with brittle circumspection by Renee Erikson, and they battle from the get-go. The eldest, Orit, predictably plays the peacemaker, and the actress, Stephanie Taylor, provides her with a ready humor and genial wit. She’s a reliable and reasonable person, doing the right thing (except for a couple of references to a possible illicit love affair – not fully explained, and perhaps the only insufficiently developed aspect of the play).

Middle daughter Marion has been sitting on her anger for years, nursing her grudge against the youngest daughter, Ilana. Sarah Eismann, who plays Marion, takes the stage quite vigorously, carrying what seems to be an overload of annoyance. It’s almost too much, considering they have never met, but then Marion is written as “dramatic” and she fulfills her role with relish. She goes after young Ilana, played ably by Robyn Michele Frank, with great vigor. Their battle comprises a large part of the scenes that follow, and their rapproachment provides the giddiest moment of the play.

As with many fringe productions, the sets were given short shrift. I would have loved to see something other than metal chairs to represent the lavish apartment but with a mandatory fast load-in and load-out, it’s easy to understand how that might not be possible. The costumes were chosen with care, by Ernesto Alicea, and represented the era quite faithfully. Ms. Ramoni was hidden under drab and unattractive dresses, but then she’s a firebird and perhaps the costumer was attempting to disguise that fact. The lighting design by Ashley Greiner was minimal but effective, and well-chosen projections were used to flesh out the details missing in the set.

In the program, Kate Holland, the very able director, points out that No Provenance is the work of many hands – an experiment with the process of writing, and how rhythms of dialogue and patterns of relationship can be created through focused improvisation.  These collaborators have succeeded beautifully. It’s a very satisfying performance, and this company should be justifiably proud of their accomplishment.





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