The Sisters Rosensweig, a play intended to echo Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s Tri sestry (1901, revised, 1904; The Three Sisters, 1920), is set in August of 1991 as the Soviet Union is dissolving. To celebrate Sara Goode’s birthday, her two sisters, Pfeni Rosensweig and “Dr.” Gorgeous Teitelbaum, come to England. Also invited are Sara’s teenage daughter, Tessie; Pfeni’s lover, the bisexual play director, Geoffrey Duncan; Sara’s aristocratic lover, Nicholas Pymn; and Tessie’s working-class Catholic boyfriend, Tom.
As the play opens, Tessie is listening to recordings of Sara’s college chorus for a school project. Pfeni, a globe-trotting feminist journalist, arrives and embraces Geoffrey, whose friend, Mervyn Kant, “world leader in synthetic animal protective covering”—a fake furrier—meets them at Sara’s house. Mervyn becomes smitten with Sara and invites himself to dinner.
Dr. Gorgeous, a radio personality who funded her trip from Newton, Massachusetts, by leading a tour for the Temple Beth El sisterhood, enters, her feet aching from cheap shoes. Before dinner Nicholas baits Mervyn about his Jewishness, and Tom and Tessie, who want to go to the celebration in Lithuania, are entranced by Mervyn’s political views. After dinner Sara and Mervyn discuss their similar American pasts until he charms her into bed. When Mervyn asks for a song, however, Sara refuses. In act 2 Gorgeous arranges...
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The Sisters Rosensweig is something of a departure from Wasserstein’s earlier dramas. The play takes place in one locale during a single weekend in 1991, at a time when the Soviet Union is dissolving. The action is more limited than in Wasserstein’s earlier work; the play, though, is still a series of mixed-up encounters that are held together less by a tight plot than by a series of counterbalancing interactions.
The play follows the structure of Chekhov’s famous play Tri sestry (1901; Three Sisters, 1920). Like Chekhov’s play, it begins with the birthday party of one of the sisters, in this case the fifty-four-year-old Sara Goode. As in Three Sisters, the birthday gifts given are eccentric or inappropriate. Both plays take place not long after the death of a parent who has set goals for the sisters’ lives—the father in Chekhov’s play and the mother in Wasserstein’s. Like Chekhov’s play, moreover, Wasserstein’s drama is built on a series of arrivals and departures, fanciful monologues, rambling retrospectives, unlikely relationships gone awry, and absurd mishaps occurring at moments of tension. The play captures the Chekhovian view of a society on the brink of change and depicts a group of insecure people who are desperately trying to find a moment of happiness in a world that is falling down around them. Like Chekhov’s plays, The Sisters Rosensweig mixes comedy with a feeling of sadness...
(The entire section is 503 words.)