The Magnet Theater at 254 West 29th Street in Manhattan hosted the comedy play, “Sisters Three” on Thursday, February 22, 2018. The play will continue through March and April. The play stars Elana Fishbein and Elena Skopetos, and Fishbein said, “The play was co-written by Elana Fishbein, Elena Skopetos, and Peter McNerney (Peter was a full collaborator in the writing). We spent 9 months improvising characters and scenes on our feet in order to develop the show. As it stands, a little improv slips in here and there, but the script is 95% set.” The dates for the remaining shows are March 8, 15, 22, and 29, with no shows in April, and I’m excited to see their next performance.
While the play is a solid one-act, really there are two points of action. First, the stars set up the characters, and second, the two actors smash all of these characters together. Several times what could have been a dead end at any of the show’s tranquil moments, these talented actresses punch through the endings. Sometimes that means going really, really surreal, and sometimes that means getting somber and realistic. Skopetos and Fishbein have a huge palette of different entertainment and humor abilities to choose from. This includes puns, outrage, scatological humor, sarcasm, dance, and exaggeration.
It's shocking that the amount of depth – this punch-through-it – means there is a great mental reward for the depth these actresses write for their characters. I was surprised at how much I was pleased with Coop, the Jam-enthusiast redneck who likes Jelly-Jams and not Jam bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Dave Matthews. This is because the stereotype of a redneck in popular culture never really goes beyond clothes or music to offer choices. Skopetos and Fishbein might be aware of Columbia scientist Sheena Iyengar’s famous jam experiments, where she had her patients choose what jellies and jams they wanted. The point here is the payout from making a choice to meet Cooper is this charm of knowing that he really likes jam, and taking a few minutes to have a redneck who also likes jam is awesome. The payout is better in this long form of improvisation comedy because the narrative gives a sort of catharsis to finish the thoughts and complete the stories.
Elana Fishbein (left) and Elena Skopetos (Right)
The first part of the play serves mostly as exposition. Skopetos and Fishbein advertise the play as having 30 plus characters, and as such it is truly a dazzling array. This makes this play seem more like Charles Dickens’ writing, especially the comedy The Pickwick Papers, because there are new characters every few minutes. The mastery here is that all of these characters, always fully developed, are forms unto themselves, complete with voices, motivations, and mannerisms. Skopetos and Fishbein are apt to throw two ridiculous characters together and run them to their natural conclusions, which makes these opening sketches similar to “Key and Peele,” or “Chappelle Show.”
The play gives kindness to its characters in the extra dimensions that it adds. Forgiveness of mitigating circumstances doesn’t just come from absolving or being willfully ignorant. The writers communicate this theme through the youngest sister’s case, when Cynthia plugs her ears and sings, “Ooh child, things are going to get easier,” but the writers here aren’t content to leave this sister finished at this moment. In the second part of the play, the characters of the older sisters indeed reconcile their blames and hatreds of their younger sister with the suicide of their mother.
The audience is rewarded for figuring out these relationships in context in the way that these characters need to figure out themselves as the play progresses. There’s the three sisters, Cynthia, Kat, and Deb. There’s all of the family of these three sisters, including their dad, a magician, Julius Potatum and his cousin; there’s the cousins’ imagined villain Dr. Farts, Chrystal, who is Kat’s assistant, Melanie, who is the assistant magician to the dad; and many others. The second part of the show where all of these characters collide and fight is a dizzying and masterful display. This brings out the best in the viewer, where she is also able to pick out the different characters as fast as Skopetos and Fishbein, who are then able to communicate their characters with a smile or sound effect of a weird voice. So, this play certainly derives a huge amount of satisfaction from its interaction with the audience.
From the playbill, all of the characters’ names are:
The Sisters are Cat, Deb, and Cynthia
The young boys are Julius Potatum and Nick Ogiony
The Jam guy is Coop
The Magician (The Great Ogiony... a younger version of the dad) has two assistants: his wife, Constance... "the legs", Melanie
Skopetos and Fishbein are funny and not afraid of emotional gambles in order to make certain jokes or even the greater narrative make sense. Skopetos and Fishbein are a classic duo, and together with their co-writer and director McNerney, they have accomplished something extraordinary. This is a great play and a sure bet for a wonderful time. Skopetos and Fishbein communicate joy, enthusiasm, and yes, even a little bit of skeptical reserve about getting too self-involved or unaware. For these reasons this show is an antidote to any of the stresses and anxieties of 21st century life.