Apr 1, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association
A title like The Sugar Bean Sisters may conjure up images of sweet Southern belles, mint julips, or quaint sibling rivalries that end in hugs, forgiveness and tears. Perhaps it invokes memories of the female singing groups of by-gone days like the Andrews Sisters.
Faye Clementine (Mary Gannon Graham) and Willie Mae Nettles (mollie boice) are living out their lives in their ramshackle family home in swamp-side Sugar Bean, Florida. Once a happy family of five, they’re down to two after Mama’s passing, Papa’s hanging (by mob after accidentally poisoning 14 beauty pageant contestants,) and third sister Robinelle’s unfortunate consumption by ‘gator. Willie Mae pines for the local Mormon Bishop (Larry Williams) and the bright lights of Salt Lake City. Faye longs for the return of an alien spaceship that landed in their corn field twenty-five years ago, and hopes it will whisk her away to some distant planet. Their mundane existence is interrupted by the arrival of Miss Videllia Sparks (Lydia Revelos) a “dancer” out of New Orleans stranded by car trouble. Then things start to get weird.
A hidden grapefruit fortune, Eva Gabor wigs, sandwiches, Jack Daniels, snakes, the Weekly World News, voodoo curses, Disney World, ghosts, a Reptile Woman (Sharon Griffith) and spontaneous human combustion all come to play over this bizarre play’s two hour running time. Need I say this show has some twists and turns to it?
Director Denise Elia-Yen has gathered a tight ensemble of performers and veteran singer Griffith certainly makes an impression in her first play, but make no bones about it, Mmes Graham and boice rule the Sugar Bean roost as the strangest pair of sisters since Blanche and ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The humor, as that reference may indicate, is often macabre as the show begins by taking you one on one journey and by intermission veers to another. The humor, though plentiful, gets darker and darker as the evening progresses.
All this weirdness takes place on finely detailed, over-stuffed, multi-level set by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano that is as much a character in this piece as any of the performers. It may be the most interesting set I’ve seen in the Condiotti space. Adding to the swampy ambience are some nice projections by Patrick Taber and a terrific sound design by Jessica Johnson.
It’s tough to categorize the Spreckels Theatre Company’s production of The Sugar Bean Sisters. Nathan Sanders’s script is a southern gothic theatrical stew - part family drama, part jet-black comedy, and part supernatural fantasy. At heart, it’s a comedy of desperation. It’s the oddest play I’ve seen in while, and I just saw a play about Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s campy, creepy and often very funny. There’s certainly nothing else like it on stage right now in this area.
By all means, head on out to the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, if ya like.
But DON’T sit in Momma’s chair. It just ain’t done…
Presented by The Spreckels Theatre Company through April 9. Photo by Eric Chazankin