The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum has had a stellar season, and attending the World Premiere of Sherri Heller’s “My Mother, My Sister and Me” was the perfect experience to put a button on it! Watching this gorgeously crafted two act XX chromosome Bronx tale, it’s hard to say who’s the biggest genius–Heller for writing it, Eric Hafen for directing it, or Paris Mercurio, who lives up to her last name in being like quicksilver–charming, gamine, and reminding nearly all of us who identify as female what it was like to be on the brink of What’s Next.
Holly (Mercurio) recounts the Summer of 1969. Remarkable, in part, for the Moon Landing that has happened moments before the curtain, as well as more personally for what happens in the mere month that follows–big changes are afoot, and more than Holly could ever have imagined. Her innocence of many things is about to be traded for capital “E” Experience.
Holly’s grandmother, Sylvia Fenster (Loni Ackerman) became part of the household when her apartment was leveled to make room for the Cross Bronx Expressway. Now it’s a household of women, with Sylvia’s daughter Arlene (Laura Ekstrand) as the head of the house. since she’s separated from her husband Danny (Gary Littman), who can’t seem to hold down a job, while Arlene is rising steadily within the company where she works. Her eldest daughter, Robin (Stephanie Windland), is in the throes of being 17, and it’s tossing her about like Ben Franklin’s kite. She’s secretly heading to Woodstock and Holly is her only confidant–she loves her mostly-absent father and strains under the yoke of what is truly Mother Knows Best, but she’s too willful to realize what that means. When we’re 17, we are bulletproof … until we discover otherwise.
Nuanced performances from all the actors draw us into the story. Mercurio’s very natural style is even more remarkable when you consider this is her professional debut—in this World Premiere event–imagine creating a role on your first time out! She has all the freshness you can imagine from someone who is chomping at the bit to “grow up” and, when the scales fall from her eyes, and she sees her parents and grandmother as she has never imagined, she’s growing up more quickly than she’d bargained for.
Scott McGowan does a brilliant turn as neighbor and devoted son Heshy Mankowitz. Heshy is living in the apartment building where Arlene and the girls are, and he’s a bit of an eccentric fellow. Schoolteacher by day and Dance teacher in the evenings, Heshy is the perfect escort and apparently a confirmed bachelor. His performance was spot-on, making Heshy lovable and real. Ethan Berman plays Marco Lopez with the aw-shucks newness of a young man finding his own way through the jungle of hormones, while maintaining respect for these new women in his life, as well as respect for himself. He’s gallant, adorable and everything a young woman’s mother would like for her daughter’s first beau … even if she thought Holly’s first beau might be Jewish rather than Latin.
Ackerman’s Sylvia is nuanced and very real. I thought of the balance that a grandmother maintains–preserving her children’s authority with their children, even while using Socratic method to change an errant granddaughter’s ideas about leaving home, even if for only one night. Littman’s Danny is struggling, too, and when the world changes as swiftly and strongly as it did in 1969, there are many who suffer collateral damage. Windland makes Robin feel like many of us felt at 17, remember a sister behaving at 17, or being Robin at that age, and she illuminates the scenes she’s in.
Arlene is an amazing woman as well and Ekstrand gives us all of Arlene’s thoughts, feelings and dreams for the future, even as we see her fears for the razor’s edge that Robin is treading. Perhaps remembering her own teendom, or her sister’s, she sees the perils that may await Robin, who isn’t listening. Robin forgets her mother was once young, too. In Arlene’s concern about uprooting her daughters from the only place they’ve ever know to move to New Jersey, her face shows a thousand emotions—as many as when she and Danny see one another again after a year’s estrangement. Throughout this show, there is so much love that you should be sure to take someone with you that you like to hug. This show is rich with life and everything that makes it worthwhile.
Get your tickets now for “My Mother, My Sister and Me.” Visit www.morrismuseum.org/main-stage-performances
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