Dysfunctional Family of Women in Middle America

International Examiner

David Hsieh directs the Repertory Actors Workshop (ReAct) in a new production of Lee Blessing's psychological drama, "Independence" at the Theatre Off Jackson.

The play, set in a small Iowa town, features a mentally warped mother and her three grown and damaged daughters. At the least, the daughters are emotionally stunted if not, like the mother, or on individual paths toward self-destruction. Cruelly tormenting and inflicting psychological blackmail on the others, the four women display a perversely neurotic, parasitic need for each other, making the name of the town in which they live - Independence - ring with irony. Kess, the oldest daughter, provokes the middle sibling, Jo: "You get something out of it" referring to Jo's seemingly sacrificial devotion to their mother. Earlier, Jo simply says, "People don't leave families like this one."

ReAct's production is a smoothly run affair. The set, costumes and lighting were all carefully chosen. The successive scenes flowed without mishap to create a cohesive whole.

Hsieh said that he chose the work because, "It's one of the few plays I know of with four equally strong female parts. And, also, the roles stretch the abilities of our regular actors."

The roles are, indeed, challenging and tricky. Even the most stereotypical role, Sherry, the youngest daughter and town's champion tramp (played by Colleen Parker), dives into a zone of pent-up anguish over lost hope. Lisa Marie Nakamura, as the demented matriarch, Evelyn, sedates the woman's sadistic lines and actions to the point the character is nearly wooden at times. In contrast, Kathy Hsieh carries Kess as burning a torch of pain throughout the play.

The best performance is given by Caroline S. Liem as Jo. Liem plays Jo with the right amount of nervousness, bringing out the varying states of confusion, naivete and heartache inherent in the depth of the role.

However, the production's strength lies not in the individual portrayals butin the interactions among the four actors. On stage, Parker, Nakamura, Hsieh and Liem are comfortable with one another and their familiarity underscores the imtimate - albeit disturbed - relationships of the characters. In particular, the scenes in which the three sisters bounce their idiosyncrasies off each other are notable for their vivid realism. There is no uplifting spirit in Blessing's story about this maladjusted brood of women. The play's merit rests in its tense presentation of the darker side of the American family.


July 16 - August 5, 1997


© 1997 The International Examiner. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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