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for The Brooklyn Paper
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"The Sisters Rosensweig" takes place on a weekend in late August 1991 as the Soviet Union is toppling, AIDS is devastating the gay community and, the breach between rich and poor in America is becoming greater every day. But as the Rosensweigs gather in the elegant London home of Sara (Rosensweig) Goode to celebrate her 54th birthday, their concerns are much more personal: growing old, finding love and keeping one’s identity - in this case Jewish and Brooklyn.

It was playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s genius to blend worldwide and personal crises in a play that is both touching and tremendously funny, and happily, the Heights Players have chosen "The Sisters Rosensweig" for their February production, which closes this weekend.

Directed by Steve Velardi ("Jake’s Women," "The Fantasticks") the show features Christina Cass (most recently, Terry in "Side Man") as Pfeni Rosensweig, Ana Jacome as Gorgeous (Rosensweig) Teitelbaum and Susan Faye Groberg, who played Gorgeous in the Gallery Players’ production, now taking the role of Sara. The performances of these talented actresses are so convincing that I found myself calling my own sister when I returned home after the play.

These three feisty daughters of Rita Rosensweig (who single-handedly defeated the Cossacks with her beauty and wisdom) each have their own way of dealing with life’s vicissitudes.

Sara is a successful managing director of the Shanghai Bank of Europe. Married twice ("Multiple divorce is definitely a good thing; you get so many names to choose from"), she is independent, cynical and, except for the somewhat perverted, possibly anti-Semitic, proper and boring Nicholas Pym (John Pepi, last seen as the first cop in "A View from the Bridge"), unwilling to let another man into her life. Then the New York furrier Merv Kant (the masterful Michael Janove, previously seen in The Heights Players’ "Moon Over Buffalo" and "Sweet Bird of Youth") walks into Sara’s home (so beautifully designed by Gerry Newman this reviewer would happily move in) and disrupts her comfortable but cold world.

At the same time, Sara is trying to deal with the decision her daughter, Tess (Jennifer Arnold) has made to join her Lithuanian boyfriend, Tom Valiunus (Andy Davis) on a mission to help the freedom fighters in the country of his forefathers.

Gorgeous, who has flowered in later life, is now a radio announcer who goes under the name Dr. Gorgeous ("Have you heard of Dr. Pepper? So I’m Dr. Gorgeous.") and is a tour guide for her temple sisterhood currently on a trip to London. She is a Jewish mother’s dream - having married a lawyer and produced four children.

Pfeni is a globe-trotting writer with no more baggage than two shopping bags. Her current boyfriend is director Geoffrey Duncan (the capable Philip Bartolf), a bisexual she met while watching "Giselle" ("I know you can’t tell a book by its cover, but Sweetsie you’re in the wrong library all together," Gorgeous advises).

Yet the three sisters are remarkably attuned to each other on an emotional level and enormously tolerant of each others’ weaknesses. Though it’s obvious by the end of the play that these weaknesses are far fewer than their strengths.

If Wasserstein is brilliant in her development of unforgettable characters, her dialogue is equally outstanding. Her one-liners follow each other as quickly as bullets in a battle.

And they always hit their mark.

"The Sisters Rosensweig" made its New York premiere in 1992 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. It featured Jane Alexander as Sara, Madeline Kahn as Gorgeous and Frances McDormand as Pfeni. After rave reviews, the show moved to Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre, where it earned an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Broadway Play and Kahn a Tony for Best Actress.

More than 10 years later, "The Sisters Rosensweig" has not tarnished, and in the polishing hands of the Heights Players, it keeps every bit of its sparkle.


"The Sisters Rosensweig" plays through Feb. 22, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 seniors and students. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For tickets, call (718) 237-2752.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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