Two Spinsters In Search of Love 4GIVENESS: In a Family Way-Four Plays About Strong Irrepressible Women

Jocelyn Stringer as Florence and Kim Saunders as Viola

In "Indulgences In the Louisville" Harem by John Orlock, two Kentucky spinster sisters struggle against the suffocating loneliness inherent in their cloistered existence until swept into a thrilling, yet bizarre courtship by a world famous mesmerist and his assistant.  

This play, which opened June 17 at Off Broadway West Theatre Company reminds one of Tennessee Williams.  The plot is a bit Tennessee Williams-ish if only because it is impossible to see a southern spinster of a certain age onstage occupying a genteelly decaying household without thinking of Williams.  There are two such women in Indulgences, sisters named Florence (Jocelyn Stringer) and Viola (Kim Saunders).  Both are full of yearnings that find expression in flowery speeches and mutual reproach.  Florence and Viola receive a catalog listing eligible gentlemen and argue about whether to use it.  

Pretty soon, two top-hatted men from the International Institute of Science and Populism turn up.  They are Amos Robbilet (Damien Cin Seperi) a mesmerist who is unable to speak and Winfield Davis (Paul Stout), who serves as Robbilet's voice, wooing for him, like Cyrano, though occasionally also speaking for  himself.  The two are obviously con men but they're more comic than menacing. In fact, the best moments of the Off Broadway West production belong to Winfield Davis. Perhaps this is because Davis' speeches are better written than the rest of the play or because Paul Stout brings a real sense of humanity to his role. 

Both Jocelyn Stringer and Kim Saunders give moving performances as the two sisters with superb Kentucky accents.  However, they should project more to be more audible.  Damien Cin Seperi gives a fine comic mime performance as Robbilet.  Under the meticulous direction of Richard Harder, a good balance was achieved between the extremes of comedy of the con men and the melancholy of the two sisters.  The cozy living room set by Bert van Aalsburg was very much in period for the turn of the century. The costuming by Sylvia Kratins was all that it should be, both authentic and proper for both period and character. The lighting design by Colin Cross was remarkable.  Richard Harder's direction was crisp, clean and concise.  Indulgences In the Louisville Harem is a natural for the Off Broadway West Theatre Company where the direct addresses to the audience and the comic turns capitalize the theater's intimacy.  

Indulgences In the Louisville Harem continues through July 30 at the Phoenix Theatre, Suite 601, 414 Mason Street (between Geary and Post) in San Francisco.  Performances are held Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. For tickets go to or call 800-838-3006.

Coming up next at Off Broadway Theatre Company will be Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard from September 30, 2011-November 5, 2011 at Phoenix Theatre, San Francisco.

Flora Lynn Isaacson
Written by award winning playwright Susan Jackson, 4GIVENESS: In a Family Way is a collection of four short plays.  Like an old fashioned southern soap opera, the characters in the plays are all related by blood or marriage and the main characters are strong, irrepressible women.  The common theme is forgiveness with settings from the Civil War era to the present.  

The program opened with Rockets Red Glare, Part I directed by Stephen Drewes and starring Diana Brown as Nandy and Susan Jackson as Peaches.  We meet them on a summer night at the Sonic Drive-In in the smallest town in Severinsville County, South Carolina.  Both ladies looked adorable in their wigs and had great playing energy as well as a flare for comedy.  The theme here is self forgiveness being the first step in forgiving others.  

The next play, Heathen takes place in 1864 in a South Carolina Plantation with background music of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.  Eric Nelson gave a strong portrayal of Dr. John Camaan watching General Sherman burning down the South while his slave Posey (Margo Sims) offers to fight off the devil to help her master.  What she doesn't know is that Lincoln freed the slaves and nobody told her. Then the play jumps to 1929 and a much stronger and wiser Posey confesses the truth just as Wall Street crumbles.  

In the third play of the program, For I Am Not Breaking, Part I directed by Ann Thomas, we meet two southern matrons, Annie (Adrienne Kru) and Marion (Susan Jackson) at Annie Camaan's gazebo, North Carolina, 2007.  Both women have opposing political views while sharing their weekly coffee.  Annie confesses that her daughter, Sarah is a lesbian.  Susan Jackson proved herself to be a wonderful comedic actress in her reaction to the news.  

The last play in the first half of the program was Rockets Red Glare, Part 1.5, the same summer night, 20 minutes later than the first play. Diana Brown continues as Nandy and we meet Salacious Peer (Eric Nelson), her beau who is a car dealer.  They have wonderful chemistry in this delightfully comic scene.  

The second half of the evening opens with Eye Tooth, directed by Ann Thomas starring Diana Brown as an eager new camper, Jenny, Adrienne Krug as Tess, an experienced camper and Susan Jackson as the Waitress.  This play takes place in a diner near Yosemite Park.   

This is followed by For I Am Not Breaking, Part II directed by Stephen Drewes and starring Susan Jackson as Marion Peallin.  This play takes place in Marion's home in North Carolina 3 weeks later. It is here that Marion receives a phone call where she can finally speak her mind and heart to her adulterous husband. Here Susan Jackson earned special applause.

The last play of the evening was Rockets Red Glare, Part II at the Sonic Drive-In one week later. Adrienne Krug stars as Crazy Lacy in a Lily Tomlin-like performance and Eric Nelson continues to play Salacious Peer, son of a judge.  Crazy Lacy informs us that southern accents have their origins in British pronunciation as she puts the make on Salacious.

The plays all add up to a wonderful evening's entertainment.  A single criticism would be the plays should be done in sequence rather than scattered throughout the program.

4GIVENESS: In a Family Way is being presented by the Southern Railroad Theatre Company at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), San Francisco.  The plays will be performed Thursday-Saturday, June 23-25 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, go to or call 415-505-2151.