This show isn’t a sister act – it’s a sister who may or may not be acting.
In the opening scene of Molly Smith Metzler’s entertaining ELEMENO PEA at Citadel Theatre, Devon doesn’t know what to make of her little sister Simone. Raised humbly in Buffalo, NY, they’re about to spend time together in a luxurious beachfront estate on Martha’s Vineyard. How deep, wonders Devon, is Simone into this world of privilege and excess?
A one-time social worker, 35-year-old Devon now works as a minimum wage “alley coordinator” at a chain restaurant and lives in their mother’s basement. An aspiring but frustrated novelist, 29-year-old Simone now earns six figures as the personal assistant to Michaela, the needy wife of a billionaire. Thanks to Michaela’s beneficence, Simone has the weekend off to reconnect with Devon.
ELEMENO PEA’s multiple dichotomies
Simone shows Devon around the fabulous guest house with giddy pride. Not only is there a voice-activated music system and pricey single-malt Scotch, there’s also Jos-B, the Latino groundskeeper, to fix the outdoor shower and fetch lobsters. The cherry on Simone’s success sundae is Ethan, her rich new boyfriend who happens to be Michaela’s husband’s best friend.
Devon isn’t buying any of this. “You’re the help,” she reminds Simone. And that designer ensemble her sister is wearing? “You look like a retarded Easter egg.”
Recalling a childhood memory in which one of them mistook the alphabet’s L-M-N-O-P as “elemeno pea,” they now face a multitude of dichotomies. Inherited wealth vs subsistence wages. Surface charm vs smoldering anger. Wisecracks vs honest feelings. Aspirations vs realities. Can Devon and Simone share a bond when their lives are so divided between the spoiled haves and the struggling have-nots?
Citadel Theatre’s production moves towards authenticity
The gulf between them widens when Michaela unexpectedly appears at the sliding glass doors of the guest house. She’s not even supposed to be on the island. Exacting husband Peter, who insists that Jos-B scrape barnacles off the pier and Michaela pluck every stray hair from her chin, has forced her out of his car. Bit by bit, as Citadel’s production moves towards some much-needed authenticity, the reason that Michaela was ejected from his Jaguar becomes clear.
Michaela and Peter have suffered a significant trauma, one that money could not prevent and which has destroyed the marriage. Yet the event’s profound emotions are commodified. Early on, Michaela describes herself as “premium pussy.” Later, Ethan informs her that Peter no longer considers her “a sound investment.” She is out. As her situation changes, all others are forced to reevaluate their own.
Broad strokes and subtle interactions
Maggie Kettering plays Devon with natural ease and confidence. After a glib start, Grayson Heyl as Michaela finds the soul of a lonely woman who has acquired much but loses much more. Sarah Hecht (Simone), Nic Fantl (Ethan) and Ray Andrecheck (Jos-B) tend to push the more obvious aspects of their characters. But Metzler’s script is a mix of sitcom broad strokes and subtle interactions that are sometimes at odds with each other. Keeping up with those shifts must be challenging for director Ellen Phelps and her cast. Over time, they may all slow down a bit and discover more tears beneath the one-liners.
Now through March 5
Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 3:00 PM
February 8 & 22 at 11:00 AM
300 S. Waukegan Road
Lake Forest, IL
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.