In THE SISTERHOOD, astute and uptight Philaminte runs her household like a school. She devotes her life to literature and academia and is so hung up on intelligence that she fires her maid, Martine (Grant Uhle), for merely being stupid. Her sons Armande (Nate Golden) and Henriette (David Reece Hutchison) are total opposites: Armande fancies books and knowledge, while deploring the ideas of marriage and sex. Henriette cares not for learning and academia, but for traditional, marital love and domesticity – specifically with his handsome boyfriend Clitandre (Kevin Murray). However, Philaminte hopes to marry Henriette off to the hack poet Trissotin (Luke Brahdt) instead. She adores Trissotin – even if his work is plagiarized, or terrible, or both.
Henriette’s father Chrysale (Matt Tallman) and uncle Ariste (Tom Trudgeon) work to thwart Philaminte’s plan despite their lascivious and flamboyant brother Belise’s (Doug Greene) efforts to steal Clitandre away for himself. Even when another poet, Vadius (Matthew Mastronardi), swoops in to help destroy Trissotin’s reputation, money seems to hold sway over all. Will Henriette choose true love over affluence?
Those familiar with Moliere’s The Learned Ladies, from which playwright Ranjit Bolt translated and adapted THE SISTERHOOD, will know how the play ends and the moral problems which don’t wrap up so neatly when this seventeeth-century text is transferred to the twenty-first. (One “moral” to this story is that men should always be the head of their household and wives must be subjective.) And those of you who know the original will also notice that Mauckingbird changed all of the female characters – except Philaminte – to gay men. This choice is, of course, inspired by their mission to “[produce] innovative…gay-themed theatre.”
Through these simple gender switches, Mauckingbird’s production reflects the exciting point in LGBT history in which we live. While there is still much to be done, gay marriage is the law of the land, and in a progressive city like Philadelphia, sexuality is trivial. As an added bonus, incidental laughs ensue from this queer interpretation when, after seeing Henriette and Clitandre kiss, Chrysale remarks how the couple reminds him of the “fun” he had as a boy. Oh, how we wish Chrysale could tell us more. However, while the anachronism of gay marriage succeeds, director Peter Reynolds also threw in modern books, accessories, and even iPhones. While the image of a man wearing period garb scrolling through Grindr does provoke moderate laughter, the idea isn’t fully fleshed-out, or even necessary.
At one hour and fifteen minutes, sans intermission, THE SISTERHOOD moves at light-speed, so sip slowly if you bring your drink from The Latvian Society’s bar into the theater. You’ll need to pay close attention to learn the back story and hear all the jokes in the rhyming couplet-styled dialogue. But – to Philaminte’s chagrin – it doesn’t take a Moliere scholar to enjoy these zany characters, brilliantly brought to life by the ensemble. Donna Snow and Doug Greene shine the brightest as a pretentious bourgeois matriarch who’s perhaps not as smart as she lets on, and the weird gay uncle we’re all glad we don’t have. [The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th St.] February 3-21, 2016, mauckingbird.org.