‘Pleiades’ tells tale of sisters circa 1971 

click to enlarge Pleiades
  • The world-premiere “Pleiades” tells what happens when seven sisters (from left, Susannah Lee, Monica Ammerman, Kailah Cayou, Annabelle King, Miranda Hanrahan, Emily Ludlow and Amy Nowak gather on Independence Day in 1971.
When the San Francisco Olympians Festival commissioned local playwright Marissa Skudlarek to riff on a Greek myth, she chose the Pleiades, the seven sister goddesses who transformed into stars. She reimagined them as seven sisters of the Seven Sisters Ivy League college type, in 1971, in the fairly early stages of second-wave feminism.

“Pleiades,” a world premiere onstage at the Phoenix Theatre in The City, is set at the sisters’ beach house in the Hamptons on a July Fourth holiday. It is during this holiday that gentle oldest sister Moira (Susannah Lee) will reveal a secret she’s been keeping for two years.

On hand is their staunchly feminist cousin, Diane (Erika Bakse). Much of the plot is set into motion by the Vietnam vet next-door neighbor, Bruce (Paul Rodrigues).

Also during this patriotic holiday, there is much heated argument about the women’s movement, especially during a consciousness-raising group (the topic: “Men are pigs!”) led by Diane, to which the sisters react in different ways.

Elaine (Amy Nowak) is so smitten with Bruce that she can easily justify seeking a conventional lifestyle that, to Diane, is entirely regressive.

Outspoken Teresa (Monica Ammerman) seems fully committed to feminism.

Emotionally volatile middle sister Alison (Annabelle King) is everybody’s scapegoat.

Of the three younger sisters, only little Meredith (played by Kailah Cayou) comes across as a fully developed character.

But over the course of two engrossing acts, most of the characters — even the much-loathed Bruce — become multi-dimensional.

Unfortunately, director Katja Rivera lacks a firm hand on the drama’s flow and timing, and hasn’t figured out how to cram all nine actors onto the small stage gracefully. Too often, they tend to enter and exit in clumps, not coming from or going anywhere in particular.

Also too often, characters mime conversing busily with each other, even downstage only inches from the audience, or clown around upstage, when others are actually talking — obfuscating focus and jarring the audience out of the reality of the moment.

Despite that, and despite some performances that don’t quite jell, you truly believe these women are sisters, with their squabbles, shifting alliances, jealousies, outbursts and deep caring for one another.

Still, I’d have liked Skudlarek to bring some 21st-century insight into her portrait of women of a certain social milieu, in a certain geographical area, caught on such a historically important cusp. As it is, given the disappointing ending, I’m not sure what the playwright is actually saying about feminism then and now.



Presented by No Nude Men Productions

Where: Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 30

Tickets: $25

Contact: www.pleiadessf.wordpress.com

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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