The Curious Theatre Branch and Vicious Circle Productions

at Theater Oobleck

The Weirdly Sisters has a lot to recommend it. It’s got exciting performances and sets, props, and costumes that boggle the senses. It’s got masks, mirrors, movies, live music, and a flying machine, and it’s only an hour and a half long. But despite all its delightful diversions, it ultimately takes itself a little too seriously.

The Weirdly Sisters is a combination adventure story and psychodrama. At its most basic level, the play deals with a neglectful mother’s difficult relationship with her two daughters. The mother has to deal with her feelings of failure and ambivalence toward her offspring, while the daughters find different methods of coping with their feelings of abandonment.

But the story itself is anything but simple. It’s set in a fantastical world, where the powerful sorcerer Esoterator (“Messer With the Universe”) has a plan to draw the distracted mother, Eme (pronounced “ee-mee”) Weirdly, completely into his world of academic abstraction. Esoterator, who gets his power through books and jism, is aided in his scheme by his personal stupid but lethal assistant Gunface, who is just what his name implies. Since in his abstract world there is no emotional contact, Esoterator must eliminate Eme’s two daughters Moxie and Loney in order to achieve his goal; tenuous as it is, they represent the only remaining personal attachment the super-intellectual Eme has to the real world.

Moxie and Loney have their own problems to face. Moxie, who keeps fleeing emotional attachments, has to figure out why, and Loney spends her life in a wild, skewed bed, creating the childhood she always wished she had had.

The many comic moments in The Weirdly Sisters work brilliantly. Playwright Bryn Magnus (who also plays Gunface) has a delightfully quirky sense of the absurd. He uses lyrical and simplistic language with equal ease. The opening scene, for instance, is a maniacal monologue by Esoterator as he dangles from a hook. It is a poetically told, hilarious, and violent tale of adolescent sexuality describing the time he first felt his power. And one of the funniest moments in the play is Gunface’s entrance into the Weirdly sisters’ bedchamber, and his exuberant speech: “You’re sisters. You’re daughters. I’m Gunface. You’re scared.”

But when Magnus gets serious, his script falls quickly into banalities and ponderous pretension. He seems to be trying to say in The Weirdly Sisters that families are important, emotional attachments are to be cherished, and though actions have consequences and can’t be undone, it’s important to try for reconciliation. (As Eme Weirdly’s brother says to her, “You’re their mother. Of course you fucked up their life.” But that’s no excuse for her to give up and run away, bury herself in her esoteric pursuits.)

First of all, while that’s a valid and noble message, it’s a trifle sentimental, considering the wild machinations we have to go through to get to it. Second, when Magnus starts to wind down to that point, his humor simply vanishes, and in its place are long, pseudointellectual tracts about motherhood and the meaning of life.

Director Jill Daly buys into that pretension, heightening it with old tricks like the mirror exercise (where two actors face off and do exactly what the other does). Still, Daly has done some remarkable work. Even without all the wonderful contraptions that the design team (Daly, Magnus, John Coyne, and Mary Zebell) has come up with, she plays with each scene visually. There’s an almost performance-art quality to her staging, as she places the actors in dramatic pictures that mean as much as the words do. For example, during a lecture by Eme Weirdly, Daly has a trio of academes performing absurd dancelike movements to punctuate her speech. The live music and sound effects, played offstage by David Freiman, Mark Comiskey, and Ned Folkerth, add greatly to the atmosphere of the piece and give some grounding to what could otherwise be, despite its conspicuous desire not to be, an extremely abstruse piece of theater.

The actors are, for the most part, quite wonderful. Ned Folkerth’s Esoterator sizzles with a fierce intensity. He combines an evil-angel quality with that of a frustrated and angry punker to make Esoterator someone we truly do not want to mess with. Jenny Magnus captures both the toughness and the idealism of Moxie Weirdly, the family member most in tune with reality. Mark Comiskey makes the dubious character of her boyfriend Jerry Loser into a charmingly disingenuous would-be musician, while Beau O’Reilly, as Eme, joyously rides the fine line between humor and profundity. Anita Stenger has some trouble maintaining the humor of the piece, but she throws herself into the melee with enthusiasm nonetheless as Loney Weirdly, the sister who spends her whole life inside her own head. But by far the most exciting performer is the playwright. His connection with the material is obvious in his acting, and he is the only one who can get through the final trivialities without losing touch with the style of the show as a whole. His portrayal of Gunface is vibrant and funny, and transforms a relatively small role into one that you wait for.