PEP | Performers Exchange Project

Audiences React to Our American Ann Sisters

We feel so honored to receive all this lovely praise from people who saw Our American Ann Sisters:

“I never go to the theater. Perhaps once a year I’ll see a play (perhaps not). I came to yours because I thought that it would be fun to see what you and your colleagues had created. I was completely blown away. Of course it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I was captivated.”

“Don’t miss this one…”

“Ok, so I would really spend two hours watching you fold laundry, because your sense of your physicality is absurdly compelling. Fortunately, I got to watch you embrace a broad spectrum of characters with other equally irresistible actresses tonight. Thank you all for creating such a rich theatrical experience!”

“I’m too tired to wax as rhapsodical as I’d like this evening, but I did want to say how much I loved the whole thing, and especially that Sophia’s play was the cat’s pajamas. Wearable fainting couch! “

“you were amazzzzing. the play was so shockingly, rockingly fantastic. brava!”

“It was touching, hilarious, and thought-provoking and I thought you were all brilliant and lovely….I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time Ann Sisters hits the stage. “

“What an awesome evening of entertainment.I laughed so hard during the finale dance as Jude struggled with the enormous paper screen. The costumes were just magnificent, Kay’s MC bustier, Sian’s fainting couch, Kay as the old man of the woods, Jen as Hawthorne. Wonderful! The consummation of Hawthorne and Sophia’s love under the skirts ala Gunther Grass’ Tin Drum was perfect! A tour de force. Thank you Thank you Thank you.”

“soo good…an amazing show…”

“Fabulous!”

“LOOOOVed the show, cant remember when i’ve laughed so hard! Victorian gal my fav. thanks!  “

“you guys were awesome! LOVED the show…congrats on a job well done – hope to catch it again.”

From Clare Aukofer at The Daily Progress:

And now for something completely different. No, it’s not Monty Python. It’s “Our American Ann Sisters,” which had its world premiere Friday in the Live Arts Upstage.

This is performance, but not a play. It’s theater in its purest sense, performance with text (and context, and even subtext) but no script, a story informed by performance rather than the other way around. It’s women gone wild, aided and abetted by men in lesser roles or entirely offstage.

Though the show is in the Live Arts space, it’s a product of the Performers Exchange Project. The group as such came to be in 2005, but its founders and members (Martha Mendenhall, Sian Richards, Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, Kara McLane Burke and Doreen Bechtol) are area theatre veterans, sometimes in more conventional work, sometimes with other unconventional groups, including Foolery and the Zen Monkey Project.

According to the program, this show began conceptually more than a year ago, with the idea of staging a “historical re-visitation of the ideas and philosophical writings of the Transcendental thinkers.”

As time, work and creativity transcended that idea, it morphed into a focus on the “19th-, 20th- and 21st-century experience of growing up female.” And that led the group to three American sisters – Mary, Sophia and Elizabeth Peabody, women who all made significant impact on the America of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and who certainly transcended the expected roles of women of the time.

Don’t worry. It’s still really funny, because one thing women have learned over the years is to laugh at our lives, even when they seem least laughable.

There’s no way to know whether the sisters would have laughed at these very liberal interpretations of their lives, but they certainly would have supported something – almost anything – different from the status quo of the society into which they were born.

The show defies description, but is structured into three segments, each focusing on one of the sisters. They all have their moments, but a favorite is the second of the three, focusing on on artist and semi-invalid Sophia Peabody (Sian Richards) just before she weds Nathaniel Hawthorne (yes, that Nathanial Hawthorne) – and influenced by, among others, Phyllis Diller and Frida Kahlo.

One of its funniest elements is her costume – or is it the set? What makes it work so well is that Richards remains in character, though the character is admittedly a little wacky. In fact, a strength of the show is that most of the performers play the ridiculous completely straight, without unneeded accessories.

An exception might be Kay Ferguson, who’s not a regular member of PEP but who participated in this project. Her bio notes that she’s studied clowning, so she acts as sort of a ringmaster for this circus of ideas. Jude Silveira takes his role as the Beautiful Assistant quite seriously, so he’s very funny.

This is creative theatre at its finest, with a whole host of creative minds to credit. Kara McLane Burke is listed in the program as the person who “cajoled and maintained” the director and performers, while Mendenhall conceived and directed the show and Bechtol, Ferguson, Tidwell and Richards created and performed it. John Paul Scheidler’s set couldn’t be better, nor could Jenny McNee’s costumes, especially when one of them marries part of the set, making for laughs and a good point.

It’s all good, they’re all good and this is a really funny show that remembers the audience while not neglecting creative integrity for its creators. In short, it’s really good theater.”

9 Responses to “Audiences React to Our American Ann Sisters”

  1. Natasha Solomon says:

    Break a leg tonight! I know the audiences will LOVE IT!

  2. Thanks, Anna! There are two original songs in Our American Ann Sisters, both by local acclaimed songwriter Shannon Worrell. The first, which opens the show while we’re holding the lanterns, doesn’t have a name, but we call it the Ann Sisters Theme. The second, which we lipsync along to with hairbrushes, is called “Wait for the Spirit.”

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