Directed by Anna C. Bahow
Produced by The Ruckus & Tympanic Theater Company
Presented at Theater Wit
A little bewitching charm goes a long way in this sometimes awkwardly paced dramedy.
Playwright Scott T. Barsotti’s Brewed—co-produced by both The Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre Company—is an unaffected and emotionally honest play about family disharmonies, even if it does leave the audience slightly wanting.
Brewed is the story of six sisters inextricably obligated to stir a magical brew in order that one of them, Babette (Stevie Chaddock Lambert), may live. Cursed by necromancer parents for her sins, Babette’s life is now bound to the perpetual motion of the brew—held in an imposing crucible in the middle of their basement. Should at any moment the stirring stop, Babette—who is already a below-knee amputee—will die. Or at least it is believed that she will die.
Needless to say, the constant need to tend the crucible (both literal and figural) has put an undue strain on the sisters and their relationships. Juliette (Dana Black) comes to the task with maternal devotion, acting as surrogate in the wake of their mother’s undue absence. Under her charge is not only the wheelchair-bound Babette, but also their slightly dopy sister, Collette (Charlotte Mae Ellison). And the foul-mouthed and raucous Paulette (Erin Myers) does not hide her frustrations in having to tend to her sister, who is not always grateful for the sacrifices being made for her.
Yet not all the sisters are equally obligated. Roxette (Susan Myburgh) has only recently come home in order that her family may meet her girlfriend—a plucky and otherwise unspoilt young woman named Lee (Elise Mayfield). And Nannette (Meredith Rae Lyons) has attempted to escape her duties by becoming one of NASCAR’s most revered drivers. Still, when all the sisters convene once again at their family home—located in a provincial swampland—each must come to terms with the compulsory obligation that binds one to the other.
Brewed is thus at heart a story of familial duty, dramatizing with remarkably little pretense the price we pay for doing right by loved ones—as well as the guilt we bear when we do them wrong. This simple (though not simple-minded) domestic dramedy never lets it fantastical premise overwhelm what is otherwise an intimate story about sisters, as reminiscent as anything we might see in our own homes (without the witchcraft…we hope). And even if we admit we’ve seen this story before, we can still safely say that we’ve never seen it quite like this.
Still, the play is structurally lopsided. The first act runs to almost an hour and a half, our attentions maintained only by the warmhearted good humor of Barsotti and his team of young actresses. Yet the second act clocks in at little more than twenty minutes. Barsotti spends too much time in the first act vaguely tip-toeing around the play’s premise, approaching it with far greater suspense than any of the sisters do. In fact, the audience already understands the nature of the mysterious brew long before Barsotti agrees to spill the beans. And the second act, by contrast, is too hurried, never quite building to the emotional catharsis Barsotti spends so much time anticipating.
As far as performances go, Elise Mayfield as the down-home, chocolate-loving Lee is boundlessly charming. Serving as a warmhearted counterweight to six otherwise saturnine sisters, her infectious good humor singlehandedly able to sustain Brewed through even its more languid moments. And even if individual performances from the six sisters themselves run the gamut from hot to cold, together they are able at least to strike enough of a warmly familial dynamic to keep their audience engaged.
Myself being an only child, I have precious little first-hand experience in the compulsory obligations of sibling love. Yet the fact that Brewed managed to open a slight crack in a heretofore unfathomable reality to me is perhaps all I need to recommend it. Invariably those with more immediate experience will find a humorous and recognizable reminder of truths they know all too well. For even if Brewed fails to sweep you off your feet, you’ll find it nonetheless casts a little spell all its own.
Anthony J. Mangini
Running time is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
Brewed runs until March 24th, 2013. Theater Wit is located at 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60657. Tickets can be obtained by calling Theater Wit at (773) 975-8150 or at their website (www.theaterwit.org).