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THEATER REVIEW: Barrington Stage’s ‘Sister Sorry’ will stick with you

"It's so superbly acted and so keenly directed, it succeeds as a captivating (almost spellbinding) and provocative 75 minutes of theater."

Alec Wilkinson’s “Sister Sorry,” in its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company, has a pair of characters that aren’t particularly likable and a story that is more premise than plot, but, damn, it’s so superbly acted and so keenly directed, it succeeds as a captivating (almost spellbinding) and provocative 75 minutes of theater.

Based on a true story first told in The New Yorker in 1993, “Sister Sorry” is the title character, brilliantly played by Jennifer Van Dyck, an artist (and former shoplifter) who sets up a call line so people can anonymously confess their secrets, such as cheating on their wives or taxes. But Jack Flash, a creepy Christopher Sears, calls-in to confess to the murder of his mother. That’s the basic plot line; no spoilers here. The play’s really about Sister Sorry’s perverse personality and the bizarre relationship, via phone exchanges, that ensues with a different kind of perverse Jack Flash.

Christopher Sears as Jack Flash in “Sister Sorry.” Photo: David Dashiell

Director Joe Calarco, who wowed Berkshire audiences with his electric “Into the Woods” at BSC several years ago, again works magic. Relying on a set imagined by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams and lighting designed by David Lander, Calarco uses the brick back wall of the Boyd-Quinson Stage, steel beams, and two sets of 1990’s industrial tech office furniture (atop which sits the obsolete answering machine) to create a cold, impersonal urban space.  (Most inspired are the handbills, which twig Flash’s interest in the call-line). Calarco uses Lander’s lighting to punctuate Wilkinson’s script and to create emotional spaces on what is essentially a minimalist stage. Calarco moves his actors about, creating active staging in what is basically an all-talk two-hander. The result: a directorial tour de-force.

Flash’s motivation isn’t clear (and this reviewer will not reveal any more about that.) But Sister Sorry (or Sandy or Sandra, as she is known to Flash) puts her motivation right up front. Wilkinson begins his play with Sorry telling us she was a shoplifter, which tells us all; she thrives on controlling a situation in which she captures an object owned by someone else. So too with her call-line; she creates a protocol wherein she appropriates the emotions — regret, pain, deceit — of strangers. Van Dyck, who was fabulous as the wife in Edward Albee’s “The Goat” at Berkshire Theatre Group several summers ago, works Wilkinson’s character as completely as she can. Sorry is changed by her experience with Flash and the phone line. Again, no spoiler here; I just wish her change were more dramatic.

Oddly, “Sister Sorry” sticks with me more than I would have thought. My encroaching impression, 36 hours after the performance, is that Sorry’s escapade is a prescient metaphor for social media, which was nascent in the early 1990s when Wilkinson’s story is set. In the end, everybody gets objectified.

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