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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Tricycle Theatre   Summer 2014

Adam Bock's new play opens like a comic revue sketch as five rich and beautiful young women give the impression of not having a combined IQ in triple digits. But Bock has more than easy satire in mind. 

As happens in many families, the sisters were cast in roles as children that they have remained stuck in as adults. There's the Pretty One, the Ditzy One, the Bossy One, the Bossed-about One and the To-be-pitied Loser. Nothing more is asked of them than to fulfil these roles, and it doesn't occur to any of them to be different. 

Then, midway through the 75-minute play, a tragedy removes one of the five from the mix, and grief is accompanied by the gradual and unsettling realisation that the gap has upset the family structure. 

No longer certain of the roles they play in the new arrangement, the sisters begin acting uncharacteristically for the first time in their lives, and are upset and disoriented as much by what they find themselves saying and doing as by the new behaviour of the others. 

There is certainly material for a play in the the imperfect but functional structures families create and how fragile they are – Edward Albee wrote one called A Delicate Balance – but this isn't it, and the key to its failure lies in the first sentence of my review. 

Once the sisters are introduced as comic caricatures, it is difficult for the playwright to move us toward much sympathy for them. Once a broken fingernail or the wrong brand of bottled water is treated as a greater tragedy than a broken marriage, we can't really believe in the characters' grief. 

The women are established as so cushioned from life by their (unearned) money that nothing about them is real. 

One sister has a personal assistant who spends the play serving the whims of all, the one who constantly cries poverty knows she can call on Daddy when the children's private school fees come due and, their story having attracted the attention of the tabloids, the play ends with them marching off to brave the paparazzi in matching high-fashion sunglasses. 

Directed by the playwright's frequent collaborator Trip Cullman, the six actresses – Isabella Calthorpe (pretty), Charlotte Parry (bossy), Patricia Potter (bossed), Claire Forlani (poor), Alice Sanders (ditzy) and Ronke Adekoluejo (PA) – strive to create characters when they've been given little more than those one-word tags to work with. 

It is possible to find sympathetic characters and tragic stories among the idle rich – Scott Fitzgerald did it, and even Stephen Sondheim's anthem 'The Ladies Who Lunch' offers them some grudging respect. But Adam Bock's poor little rich girls are just too uninteresting to care about.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania - Tricycle Theatre 2014

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