Third Rail’s production of The Gray Sisters, written by Craig Wright and directed by Slayden Scott Yarbrough, is all about girls and the endless drama they have with their fathers. Four women, all sisters, deal with abuse, disappointment, death and family secrets in four monologues that span the 90-minute show.
Sisterhood and a trail of broken dreams
Third Rail’s production of The Gray Sisters, written by Craig Wright and directed by Slayden Scott Yarbrough, is all about girls and the endless drama they have with their fathers. Four women, all sisters, deal with abuse, disappointment, death and family secrets in four monologues that span the 90-minute show. There is no intermission, but once the ball gets rolling the break isn’t needed, and the seemingly long show passes in the blink of an eye.
It is a rough start, however. The weakest character of the bunch, Sarah a.k.a. Pokey (played by Stephanie Gaslin), sits in a car, having a conversation with her father who is not really there. The strange conversation that ensues can be incredibly hard to follow because the replies she gets from her father are responded to, but never voiced.
That, and it’s distracting when any character can’t pin down their own age. Pokey jumps between being an excited 12-year-old talking about the Indigo Girls and a bitter, rebellious college student who talks to her father about smoking pot and having sex “23 times” with some director named Fabio. Granted, it is inferred by the audience that she was talking about sex, never implicitly stated.
Luckily, the show gets better. While Pokey was touch-and-go at best, the rest of the sisters seem to improve exponentially throughout the show, each better than the last.
We discover that something happened between Pokey’s father, Dale, and her older half-sister Anya (played by Valerie Stevens). Pam, played by Maureen Porter, reveals to their mother that Dale sexually abused Anya when they were both teenagers, right after Pokey was born, in a conversation that is set six months after his suicide that may or may not have been fueled by belated guilt.
It is Stevens’ portrayal of Anya that ends up stealing the show. Anya’s monologue begins with her terrible husband asking for a divorce and walking out on her, leaving her broken on the floor. She then realizes that her oldest son, Evan, has heard the whole thing and she is forced to explain to him her abuse at the hands of her step-father, as her husband has already told him everything without her knowledge.
She begins her moment in the spotlight a colorless, broken woman and grows to be more vibrant under the audience’s watch. It is wonderful to see this kind of change in a character, especially without another visible character as a catalyst.
The last monologue from the oldest sister is Dina (Gretchen Corbett), the reclusive horror author who pens wickedly disturbing novels. She, Anya and Pam are all full-blooded sisters from their mother’s first marriage to a man called Preacher Gray, who died presumably around the time Dina was just finishing up high school.
Dina talks to her absent father about her mother’s death, her sister’s divorce and how she blames herself for the atrocities suffered by her sisters. This monologue, in a show seething with bitter depression and explosive anger, is comforting, bittersweet and offers the audience a form of closure.
This show is thought-provoking and incredibly emotional. Third Rail has a winner with this one, especially since the show was written for this troupe. Though it ends on a fairly high note in relation to the rest of the drama that ensues, it is not a play for the weak at heart. Here’s to hoping the performances, like fine wine, only improve with time.