Sister Cities
by Colette Freedman

Cast & Crew
Roz Riley - Director.

Amy Victoria Brooks
Ros Richards
Liz Harper
Samantha Lee
Isabel Dickson

Lindsay Walton - sound,
Stephen Dean - lighting.
with Karli Evans, Kurtis Wakefield and Erin Thomas

7th to 22nd October 2016

Recipe for a modern comedy:
Take 4 half sisters who disagree about almost everything;
fold in 1 ghost;
add lots of quirky word play, much pink underwear and a spider.
Heat well as they try to deal with unexpected death.
Serve with a warm prelude of sex, death and chocolate.
Sister Cities   photographed by John Reeves
Review from Sydney Arts Guide http://www.sydneyartsguide.com.au/sister-cities-by-colette-freeman-the-star-of-the-sea-manly/
This delightful black comedy concerns four very different dysfunctional step-sisters who have returned home to mourn their mother’s successful suicide.
Their mother caused these four estranged step-sisters to have quirky and completely different lives, smart females each as different as the cities for which they were named. Life is complicated and having a close-knit family is so important, but they have learnt to disagree about everything, making each woman very memorable, long after the play ends.
Deftly directed with vision nuance and care, director Roz Riley, has applied her unique paradigm to choosing a solid and compelling ensemble cast of five superb actors, each pitch perfect for their role, for this powerful and emotional play. Each sister presents as an authentic articulate individual with fascinating and realistic back-stories. The mother’s personal life choices are nothing short of shocking.
Without resorting to showing women who only define themselves in terms of their partnerships these women are definitely not shallow stereotypical characters.
All four have decided to master not only what they love, but have chosen to also master what they despise. Effective set design and costumes, plus the lighting and music choices were all excellent.
Almost perfect, riveting with so many unexpected twists and turns, SISTER CITIES easily provides the requisite red-herrings and other diversions, and also delivers an unexpected ending. The entire experience was gripping.
Online review from SleepPile (Australia's underground style, arts and culture)
In Colette Freedman’s work, four sisters from different fathers, all named after the American city they were born in, come together after their mother Mary’s passing. On arrival, they are shocked to find their free-spirited, man-hungry dancer mother still in the bathtub, wrists slit.
Enter Carolina (Liz Harper), the high-powered lawyer living in Seattle; Dallas (Samantha Lee), the good wife, mother and schoolteacher, the youngest, Baltimore (Isabel Dickson), a sociology major (like you’re reminded every ten minutes) at Harvard, and Austin (Amy Victoria Brooks), author of a bestselling novel who hasn’t written anything since, who lived with their mother until her death.
Sparks fly as the gaping differences between the sisters and their relationships (or lack thereof) with their mother are exposed.
The humour is pitch-black but hilarious: there are references to the mother’s fancy QVC razor blades she used in her final act, Baltimore’s attempts to work against the systems engineered for women by “dead white men” and Austin’s self-deprecating narration.
One moment the audience is sniggering, but before you know it themes of euthanasia, the loneliness of old people, women’s rights and intergenerational conflict have been touched on. How’s that for a comedy?
Certainly, there are some clunky moments, most notably a metaphor of Russian dolls representing all the sisters, cutting off a spider’s legs to demonstrate the degeneration of the body or drugging someone to make them 'realise' what chronic disease is like, but the actresses all sell them so convincingly it’s easy to forgive.
Director, Roz Riley, has cast them perfectly, with Brooks’s emotive, wide-eyed gaze and Dickson’s bohemian energy; the tiny stage keeps you up close and personal with the action.
Sister Cities is a successful two hour Bechdel test of a play, where women talk about other women (men are only referenced in terms of their genetic predisposition to disease affecting their daughters), with convincing American accents and striking performances.
Catch Sister Cities now in this intimate, raw setting, before they make it into a film starring Jacki Weaver, out next year.
Review by Ri Jih Wong in Weekend Notes
In my opinion, Sister Cities is an engaging play which touches upon controversial matters such as death, divorce, sibling rivalry and failure in an enlightening way. As the story unfolds, you will find some surprising plot twists accompanied by witty dialogues with quirky word play, so there will never be a dull moment.
For those who are keen on finding out what happens in this amazing play, there are 5 performances left in October.
As a bonus, this production of Sister Cities is also preceded by a special prelude play of "If it wasn't for the Nights" by Suzanne Hauser. This short Australian play tackles some of the same themes with a blend of warmth and quirky humour.
Review from AussieTheatre
Colette Freedman’s Sister Cities, now in the hands of Factory Space Theatre Company at Star of the Sea Manly, is aptly titled. Following their mother’s death, four sisters – each named after the American cities in which they were born – come together for an unplanned family reunion which, as expected, unleashes old tensions.
The evening is something of a double bil. Sister Cities is preluded by a short and sombre Australian play, Suzanne Hauser’s If It wasn’t for the Nights. Starring Karli Gilchrist, Erin Thomas, and Kurtis Wakefield, it attempts to address similar issues to the main event (how we as a society deal with death and illness), but the short performance time of around fifteen minutes hinders its ability to develop the characters into people we care about.
Sister CitiesSister CitiesIn contrast to If it wasn’t for the Nights’ tone, Sister Cities, directed here by Roz Riley, is a black comedy: the perfect vehicle to showcase the darkness and inescapable comedy of reuniting a dysfunctional family in a time of high stress. Like The Breakfast Club, a film the play explicitly references, each character is given a moment of revelation and catharsis; long held secrets and troubled emotions are finally brought to the surface.
Each sister can be summarised by labels: the uptight one, Carolina (Liz Harper), the recluse, Austin (Amy Victoria Brooks), the perfect one, Dallas (Samantha Lee) and the radical one, Baltimore (Isabel Dickson). However, Freedman’s writing fleshes out the characters into more than mere archetypes, highlighting their flaws and complexities to remind us all that for every person, there’s more than meets the eye.
For the most part, the play is entertaining, packed with relatable bickering and believable language, cutting through taboos to unwaveringly address delicate topics like euthanasia laws. Unfortunately, a plot twist inspired by Atticus Finch’s mantra “You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” pushes the previously relatable story into disappointing melodrama.
Freedman plows through themes of death, failed expectations, and disappointments. However, the inevitable and clichéd happy ending arrives, and there’s a built-in explicit need for the characters to “come to a resolution,” which detracts from the realism of the plot – family resolutions can take years, or even never happen, and the sisters rapid harmony seems unearned. Still, there’s a strong cast that works to pull the competing threads together into a compelling performance. Liz Harper is an excellently uptight Carolina, a lawyer who has always followed the rules, and Amy Victoria Brooks (Austin) and Isabel Dickson (Baltimore) bring a wonderful light-heartedness and humour to the stage, nicely contrasting with the other, more serious sisters. Dallas isn’t a character written to leave much of an impression, but Samantha Lee rounds her out, balancing sensitivity with stoicism, and Ros Richards gives a touching performance as the sisters’ long-suffering, manipulative mother.
It’s an age old trope to explore the reconnection of an estranged family following the death of a relative (August: Osage County is a well-known recent example). Despite its stumbles, Sister Cities is a particularly good interpretation of the genre, and this production captures the spirit of the black comedy in a surprisingly heart-warming way.